Wernicke's Area

An illustration of brain showing Wernicke's area
Wernicke's Area (Orange). Dorling Kindersley / Dorling Kindersley RF / Getty Images

Wernicke's area is the region of the brain that is important for language development. The Wernicke's area is located in the temporal lobe on the left side of the brain and is responsible for the comprehension of speech (Broca's area is related to the production of speech). Language development or usage can be seriously impaired by damage to this area of the brain.

When this area of the brain is damaged, a disorder known as Wernicke's aphasia can result.

Where Is Wernicke’s Area Located?

Wernicke's area is usually located in the back part of the temporal lobe, although exact locations can vary. It is most frequently found in the left hemisphere of the brain, but not always.

How Wernicke’s Area Was Discovered

Early neuroscientists were interested in discovering where certain abilities were localized in the brain. This localization of brain function suggests that certain abilities, such as producing and understanding language, are controlled by certain parts of the brain.

One of the pioneers of this research was a French neurologist named Paul Broca. During the early 1870s, Paul Broca discovered a region of the brain associated with the production of spoken language. Damage to this area, he found, resulted in problems producing language. Broca described one patient known as Leborgne could understand language although he could not speak aside from isolated words and a few other utterances.

When Leborgne died, Broca conducted a postmortem exam on the man's brain and found a lesion in an area of the frontal lobe. This area of the brain is now referred to as Broca's area and is associated with the production of speech.

About ten years later, a neurologist named Carl Wernicke identified a similar type of problem in which in patients were able to speak but were not able to actually comprehend language.

Examining the brains of patients suffering from this language problem revealed lesions at a junction of the parietal, temporal and occipital lobes. This region of the brain is now known as Wernicke's area and is associated with the understanding of spoken and written language.

Damage to Wernicke’s Area

When Wernicke’s area is damaged, a language aphasia can result.

Wernicke's Aphasia

Wernicke's aphasia is a language disorder that impacts language comprehension and the production of meaningful language. The disorder is related to damage to the Wernicke's area. Individuals with Wernicke's aphasia have difficulty understanding spoken language but are able to produce sounds, phrases, and word sequences. While these utterances have the same rhythm as normal speech, they are not language because no information is conveyed.

People suffering from this type of aphasia might be able to produce speech that sounds natural, yet is largely meaningless. This type of aphasia is also often referred to as receptive aphasia, fluent aphasia or sensory aphasia.

This type of aphasia affects both spoken and written language.

According to the National Aphasia Association, people with Wernicke's aphasia can frequently produce speech that sounds normal and grammatically correct. The actual content of this speech makes little sense. Non-existent and irrelevant words are often included in the sentences that these individuals produce.

In order to better understand how damage to Wernicke’s area affects language, it might be helpful to view this video clip. This clip provides an example of speech produced by an individual suffering from Wernicke’s aphasia.


National Aphasia Foundation. (n.d.). Wernicke's aphasia. Retrieved from http://www.aphasia.org/aphasia-resources/wernickes-aphasia/

Wright, A. (n.d.). Chapter 8: Higher Cortical Functions: Language. Neuroscience Online. University of Texas Health Science Center. Retrieved from http://neuroscience.uth.tmc.edu/s4/chapter08.html

Continue Reading