Science Daily reports:
A University of South Carolina study suggests that pronouns help keep the brain’s complex circuitry and limited memory system from being overloaded.
Using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), psychology researcher Dr. Amit Almor and colleagues studied the brain activity of 21 adults, ages 19 - 34, who were asked to read sequences of sentences to compare the brain’s response to pronouns versus proper names.
Almor’s findings are featured in the cover article in the current issue of the NeuroReport, a scientific journal.
“The brain lit up with activity when proper names were used, including areas that are not associated with language,” Almor said. “We saw considerable activity in areas of the parietal lobe that involve spatial processing that was absent when pronouns were used.” . . .
Almor's explanation of this phenomenon is fascinating:
The brain responds to proper names by creating a representation of the person in the mind, drawing from various parts of the brain to construct complex visual, sound and other information associated with that person. Every time the name is repeated, the brain responds by activating a process that creates a new representation of the person.
The brain initially holds each created representation in memory. The integration of these multiple representations requires effort that can disrupt the brain’s ongoing processing of what it hears during spoken conversation.
Pronouns, while faulty for their potential ambiguity, don’t cause the same disruptions in the brain that proper names do when used in the right context. In fact, they allow the brain to move easily from one thought or sentence to another. This seamless transition allows a person to digest more fully the meaning or intent of the thought being conveyed without the neural circuitry interference that proper names cause, said Almor.
In other words, we can hold on to the image of the person whose proper name has been cited and "point" to it without constantly replicating that image and taking up valuable cognitive space. Almor explains how ASL users perform basically the same function spatially:
Almor says American Sign Language uses a similar system to protect the brain from such “juggling.” In ASL, a person will sign a proper name on first reference and then point to a specific location in the air, as if “placing” that name on an invisible computer desktop. Instead of re-signing the name, which causes the brain to create a new representation of that person, the signer will point to where he or she had “placed” that name so that the other person will understand to whom he or she is referring.
“Language has evolved to meet our brain’s needs, and sign language is no different,” said Almor. “In fact, although sign languages are often studied through comparison to spoken languages, in this case sign language may show the internal working of the brain’s language ability more transparently than any spoken language.”
“Our study suggests that, just like signers, English speakers place people that were previously mentioned in space, although in the case of English speakers, this space is a ‘virtual’ brain space.”
If you become as irritable and distracted as I do when well-intentioned but linguistically clueless modern-liturgy hacks insist on referring to God as God all the time instead of using a pronoun, now we both know why.