Prof. Liina Pylkkänen

Prof. Meera Al Kaabi

Course description

What are the brain bases of our ability to speak and understand language? Are some parts of the brain dedicated to language? What is it like to lose language? Answering these questions is not only a fundamental component of understanding the human mind but a prerequisite for the surgical treatment of many neurological disorders. In particular, a critical component of many brain surgeries is mapping the cortical areas that are essential for language, such that these areas can be maximally preserved in surgery. Data from pre-surgical mapping has formed the foundation of our understanding of how the brain uses and represents language. A major challenge for presurgical language mapping is the unavailability of the relevant language tests in many of the world’s languages. Thus patients are often tested in a language that is not their native language. In this course, as they learn the fundamentals of neurolinguistics and ways in which modern brain imaging technology has revolutionized our understanding of the human mind, students will translate pre-surgical language mapping tests to as many languages as possible (as determined by the students’ own language backgrounds) and run these tests on at least one healthy participant while the participant’s brain activity is recorded with magnetoencephalography (MEG). Students will be taught how to design a scientific poster presentation and the course will culminate in mini-conference of poster presentations on these case studies. Students will develop an understanding of the core findings in the neurobiology of language and gain a hands-on experience collecting and processing brain data at the Neuroscience of Language Lab at NYUAD. Knowledge of languages other than English is a plus, especially Arabic. This course counts as D&D for the new core, and ED&W for the old core.

Undergraduate Requirements




Regular attendance at lectures and lab.


Journal articles and book chapters. Pdfs of the readings will be made available to students.


  • Hands-on lab work (scripting, subject recruitment, data collection, analysis): 20%
  • On the basis of each set of readings (6 sets), formulate a question and summarize the critical background for that question: 20%
  • Quizzes (3): 20%
  • Oral presentation of class project: 20%
  • Written/visual presentation of class project (conference style poster): 20%

Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:
  • understand core findings in the neurobiology of language
  • understand the physiological basis of MEG recordings and their relation to other major cognitive neuroscience techniques
  • distinguish the primarily components of MEG responses to linguistic stimuli, such as written words or combinations of words
  • engage in the design of neurolinguistic experiments and understand the possibilities and limits of an electrophysiological technique such as MEG
  • collect and process MEG data
  • prepare a report of the results of a case study following the structure of a standard conference presentation

Teaching and Learning Methodologies

This is a hands-on laboratory course with lectures supporting the research experience. Learning of basic concepts will be assessed with a small number of quizzes and, for the first half of the class, daily writing assignments in which students formulate a question on the basis of that day’s readings and briefly summarize the background for that question (4 – 5 sentences max). Students will work with the professors and the staff of the Neuroscience of Language Lab to acquire both the theoretical knowledge and the practical skills for collecting and processing magnetoencephalography data during a language task. Most classes will consist of a combination of a short lecture and hands-on work in the lab (or on laptops in the classroom).

Plagiarism Statement

Schedule & Readings

H&S  Hickock, G. & Small, S. L. (Eds.). (2015). Neurobiology of Language. Academic Press.
Date Lecture Lab Readings
4-Jan Questions for the neuroscience of language and its clinical applications. MEG recording of auditory evoked response.
6-Jan (Sat) Brain Basics. Non-invasive methods. MEG recording of visual response.
7-Jan Neural representation of speech sounds. QUIZ 1 (methods) Demo of object-naming dialogue task
8-Jan Lexical access. The bilingual brain. Stimulus design/creation
9-Jan Brain correlates of word structure; Neuroscience of Arabic morphology. QUIZ 2 (speech, lexical access) Stimulus design/creation
10-Jan Neural correlates of composition. Stimulus design/creation, scripting, testing
11-Jan Processing and analysis of MEG data.
QUIZ 3 (morphology, composition)
Scripting, testing, data collection
13-Jan (Sat) Processing and analysis of MEG data. Data collection
14-Jan Organization of experimental reports. Data collection
15-Jan Data collection, processing, analysis. Drafts of posters due at 9am.
16-Jan Data collection, processing, analysis.
17-Jan Poster prep, creation of figures.
18-Jan Poster conference of case studies.