The Two-Streams hypothesis
The Two-Streams hypothesis is a widely accepted, but still controversial, account of visual processing. As visual information exits the occipital lobe, it follows two main channels, or "streams."
The ventral stream (also known as the "what pathway") is associated with object recognition and form representation. It has strong connections to the medial temporal lobe (which stores long-term memories), the limbic system (which controls emotions), and the dorsal stream (which deals with object locations and motion).
The dorsal stream (or, "where pathway") is involved in spatial awareness and guidance of actions (e.g., reaching). In this it has two distinct functional characteristics -it contains a detailed map of the visual field, and is also good at detecting and analyzing movements. The dorsal stream commences with purely visual functions in the occipital lobe before gradually transferring to spatial awareness at its termination in the parietal lobe. The posterior parietal cortex is essential for, "the perception and interpretation of spatial relationships, accurate body image, and the learning of tasks involving coordination of the body in space".
The dual stream model for language processing (a hot new hypothesis)
Built on an analogy between the visual and auditory systems, the following dual stream model for language processing was suggested recently: a dorsal stream is involved in mapping sound to articulation, and a ventral stream in mapping sound to meaning. The goal of the study presented here was to test the neuroanatomical basis of this model. Combining functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with a novel diffusion tensor imaging (DTI)-based tractography method we were able to identify the most probable anatomical pathways connecting brain regions activated during two prototypical language tasks. Sublexical repetition of speech is subserved by a dorsal pathway, connecting the superior temporal lobe and premotor cortices in the frontal lobe via the arcuate and superior longitudinal fascicle. In contrast, higher-level language comprehension is mediated by a ventral pathway connecting the middle temporal lobe and the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex via the extreme capsule. Thus, according to our findings, the function of the dorsal route, traditionally considered to be the major language pathway, is mainly restricted to sensory-motor mapping of sound to articulation, whereas linguistic processing of sound to meaning requires temporofrontal interaction transmitted via the ventral route.
Dorsal and ventral streams: a framework for understanding aspects of the functional anatomy of language
Résumé / Abstract
Despite intensive work on language-brain relations, and a fairly impressive accumulation of knowledge over the last several decades, there has been little progress in developing large-scale models of the functional anatomy of language that integrate neuropsychological, neuroimaging, and psycholinguistic data. Drawing on relatively recent developments in the cortical organization of vision, and on data from a variety of sources, we propose a new framework for understanding aspects of the functional anatomy of language which moves towards remedying this situation. The framework posits that early cortical stages of speech perception involve auditory fields in the superior temporal gyrus bilaterally (although asymmetrically). This cortical processing system then diverges into two broad processing streams, a ventral stream, which is involved in mapping sound onto meaning, and a dorsal stream, which is involved in mapping sound onto articulatory-based representations. The ventral stream projects ventro-laterally toward inferior posterior temporal cortex (posterior middle temporal gyrus) which serves as an interface between sound-based representations of speech in the superior temporal gyrus (again bilaterally) and widely distributed conceptual representations. The dorsal stream projects dorso-posteriorly involving a region in the posterior Sylvian fissure at the parietal-temporal boundary (area Spt), and ultimately projecting to frontal regions. This network provides a mechanism for the development and maintenance of parity between auditory and motor representations of speech. Although the proposed dorsal stream represents a very tight connection between processes involved in speech perception and speech production, it does not appear to be a critical component of the speech perception process under normal (ecologically natural) listening conditions, that is, when speech input is mapped onto a conceptual representation. We also propose some degree of bi-directionality in both the dorsal and ventral pathways. We discuss some recent empirical tests of this framework that utilize a range of methods. We also show how damage to different components of this framework can account for the major symptom clusters of the fluent aphasias, and discuss some recent evidence concerning how sentence-level processing might be integrated into the framework.
Seems to support Wernicke's 1874 language model
"...Wernicke proposed that sensory representations of speech ("auditory word images") interfaced with two distinct systems, the conceptual system, which he believed was broadly distributed throughout cortex, and the motor system located in the frontal lobe. The interface with the conceptual system supported comprehension of speech, whereas the interface with the motor system helped support the production of speech. Thus, one stream processes the meaning of sensory information (the "what" stream), while the other allows for interaction with the action system (the "how" stream). This is basically identical to what David and I have been claiming in terms of broad organization of our dual stream model..."
"Experimental data suggest that the division between the visual ventral and dorsal pathways may indeed indicate that static and dynamical information is processed separately. Contrary to Hurford, it is suggested that the ventral pathway primarily generates representations of objects, whereas the dorsal pathway produces representations of events. The semantic object/event distinction may relate to the morpho-syntactic noun/verb distinction."
Markus Werning (2003). Ventral Versus Dorsal Pathway: The Source of the Semantic Object/Event and the Syntactic Noun/Verb Distinction? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (3):299-300.