© 2016, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. Introduction: The emergence of advanced in vivo neuroimaging methods has redefined the understanding of brain function with a shift from traditional localizationist models to more complex and widely distributed neural networks. In human language processing, the traditional localizationist models of Wernicke and Broca have fallen out of favor for a dual-stream processing system involving complex networks organized over vast areas of the dominant hemisphere. The current review explores the cortical function and white matter connections of human language processing, as well as their relevance to surgical planning. Methods: We performed a systematic review of the literature with narrative data analysis. Results: Although there is significant heterogeneity in the literature over the past century of exploration, modern evidence provides new insight into the true cortical function and white matter anatomy of human language. Intraoperative data and postoperative outcome studies confirm a widely distributed language network extending far beyond the traditional cortical areas of Wernicke and Broca. Conclusions: The anatomic distribution of language networks, based on current theories, is explored to present a modern and clinically relevant interpretation of language function. Within this framework, we present current knowledge regarding the known effects of damage to both cortical and subcortical components of these language networks. Ideally, we hope this framework will provide a common language for which to base future clinical studies in human language function.