The neural basis of language

TMS-EEGWe aim to illuminate all levels of language functions, ranging from phonology to the processing of meaning, by using multi-modal neuroimaging.

Our work has shown that memory traces of speech sounds and words operate in an automatic fashion. Furthermore, the strength of word-specific memory traces is determined by everyday language use. We have also pinpointed the neural networks for morphologically complex words. One of our main interests is the interplay of established language memory networks and the influence of learning on speech representations.

Development and language learning

lapsi-ja-kirjaOur research strives to uncover the mechanisms underlying the development and learning of language across the life span, by using behavioural and brain research methods. Our studies comprise the development and experience-induced plasticity of speech sound and word representations from the fetal stage until adulthood. In particular, we are interested in the establishment of long-term memory representations for novel speech sounds and words, and the effects of the native language on foreign-language learning.


The ability to use more than one language is becoming increasingly useful. We address questions such as what kind of influence – e.g., advantages or disadvantages – the acquisition and use of two languages has on linguistic and nonlinguistic cognitive processes. How are two languages represented and organized in the brain, how does the system control the selection of a language, and how does the age of acquisition affect these processes? With behavioral and neurophysiological measures, we study children and adults to uncover how learning two or more languages influences our cognitive processes throughout the life span.


Language-related disorders

Language-related developmental disorders are quite prevalent, compromising learning and well-being of a large number of children. Our work, employing neurophysiological, brain imaging, and neurocognitive approaches illuminates the neural basis of developmental dyslexia, autism spectrum, and specific language impairment. Furthermore, we aim to determine the developmental trajectories of language skills with follow-up studies and the amelioration of language-related deficits with intervention studies.

Research Methods

We use all main cognitive/systemic neuroscience methods (EEG, TMS, MEG, fMRI) and psychophysiological measures such as electromyography and skin conduction recordings. These methods are complemented by neuropsychological and other performance tests and DNA analyses. Our studies are conducted at the Institute of Behavioural Sciences, University of Helsinki, at the Helsinki University Central Hospital (Biomag laboratory), Helsinki, and at the AMI Center, Helsinki University of Technology, Espoo. For more information on our laboratories, see Facilities at CBRU.

P&E_lahi ANS1

Ongoing Projects

  • Predictive coding in language learning (University of Helsinki; PI: Sari Ylinen; 2015-2017)
  • Neural markers and plasticity of language dysfunctions (the Academy of Finland; PI: Teija Kujala, Co-PI: Paula Virtala; 2014-2018;
  • Neural basis and biomarkers of dyslexia (Jane and Aatos Erkko foundation; PI: Teija Kujala, Co-PI: Paula Virtala; 2014-2017;
  • “Say it again, kid!”- game and speech technology in foreign language learning in children (Academy of Finland; PI: Risto Näätänen; 2014-2017)
  • Sanat kielellisisssä verkostoissa/Words in linguistic networks (Kone Foundation, PI: Alina Leminen, 2014-2016)
  • Neurocognitive basis of bilingualism (Emil  Aaltonen Foundation and University of Helsinki; PI: Minna Lehtonen;  2013-2016)