The research paper which spawned this puff piece is Dissociating neural subsystems for grammar by contrasting word order and inflection Aaron J. Newmaa, Ted Supalla, Peter Hauser, Elissa L. Newport, and Daphne Bavelier, but it's behind a firewall, of course. As far as I can tell from the abstract, the researchers used sign language stimuli to discover that sentences which relied on word order to convey case information activated different patterns in the brain than sentences using inflections (which the puff piece quaintly calls "tags"). From the abstract:
During functional (f)MRI, native signers viewed sentences that used only word order and sentences that included inflectional morphology. The two sentence types activated an overlapping network of brain regions, but with differential patterns. Word order sentences activated left-lateralized areas involved in working memory and lexical access, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the inferior frontal gyrus, the inferior parietal lobe, and the middle temporal gyrus. In contrast, inflectional morphology sentences activated areas involved in building and analyzing combinatorial structure, including bilateral inferior frontal and anterior temporal regions as well as the basal ganglia and medial temporal/limbic areas. These findings suggest that for a given linguistic function, neural recruitment may depend upon on the cognitive resources required to process specific types of linguistic cues. (emphasis added).
The final sentence of the abstract is compelling as it makes a claim about neural recruitment and cognitive resources. NOT about different languages using different parts of the brain! There are some respected linguistics on the author list, so I suspect the paper worth reading (if they would let me, that is!). But the original puff piece did provide two of the stimuli:
- John’s grandmother feeds the monkey every morning.
- The prison warden says all juveniles will be pardoned tomorrow.