Paul Broca’s Birthplace

Walking in the footsteps of Paul Broca. Cross the bridge over the Dordogne from Port-Sainte-Foy-et-Ponchapt to the Girondine bastide of Sainte-Foy-la-Grande and you see the brass plaque of the orthophoniste.  We wonder if they are located in this town because they remember that Sainte-Foy was the home of one of the greatest contributors to our understanding of the neurology of the speech and language process – Paul Broca.  Every speech and language therapist knows about ‘Broca’s area’, the area of the brain associated with expressive language.  Here you are in Paul Broca’s hometown where there is a square – Place Paul Broca – named after him, a bronze memorial bust and a lecture hall commemorating one of the town’s most distinguished residents.

Bastide of Sainte-Foy-La-Grande on the river Dordogne
Paul Broca born Sainte-Foy-La-Grande 28 June 1824

Broca’s Early Life and Education in and around the Bastide

Pierre Paul Broca was a French physician, anatomist and anthropologist.  He was born in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande on 28 June 1824 and died on 9 July 1880. His father, Jean Pierre Broca, was a medical practitioner and former surgeon in the service of Napoleon and his mother was the daughter of a Calvinist Reformed Protestant minister. The Huguenot Broca was educated in Sainte-Foy and gained a bachelor’s degree at the age of 16.  

The Young Paul Broca leaves Sainte-Foy-La-Grande for Paris

He entered medical school in Paris when he was 17 and graduated aged 20.  He became an intern with Pierre Nicolas Gerdy, the great anatomist and surgeon (1797-1856) and after two years became his assistant.  In 1848, he was performing dissections for lectures in anatomy at the University of Paris medical school. He was awarded a medical doctorate in 1849.  In 1853, he became professor agrégé and was appointed surgeon. He was elected Chair of external pathology at the Faculty of Medicine in 1867 and one year later professor of clinical surgery.  In 1868, he was elected a member of the Académie de Médicine and appointed Chair of clinical surgery where he served until his death in 1880 at the age of 56.

Broca’s Area

Paul Broca is celebrated for his theory that the speech production centre of the brain is located in the left hemisphere. He identified the location in the ventroposterior region of the frontal lobes, now known as Broca’s area. He discovered this as a result of studying the brains of aphasic patients – people with speech and language disorders resulting from brain injuries.

Paul Broca, Founder of Anthropology

He was known to be an atheist and a liberal.  In 1859, he founded the Society of Anthropology in Paris.  In 1872, he published the journal Revue d’Anthropologie and four years later established the Institute of Anthropology which was opposed by the French church.

Paul Broca was elected to the French Senate towards the end of his life. He was a member of the Académie Française and was awarded many honorary degrees at home and abroad. His two sons also studied medicine.  Auguste became a professor of paediatric surgery and Andre a professor of medical optics. 

And as we walk back over the bridge, past the orthophoniste plaque, from the place where Paul Broca spent his formative years, Broca’s area suddenly takes on a whole new meaning.