In search of the language switch: An fMRI study of picture naming in Spanish-English bilinguals

Brain Lang. 2000 Jul;73(3):421-31. doi: 10.1006/brln.1999.2278.


For many years, researchers investigating the brain bases of bilingualism have concentrated on two basic questions. The first concerns the nature of language representation. That is, are a bilinguals' two languages represented in distinct or overlapping areas of the brain. The second basic question in the neuropsychology of bilingualism concerns the neural correlates of language switching, that is, the areas that are active when bilinguals switch from one language to the other. Performance between single-language and dual-language picture naming was compared in a group of six Spanish-English bilinguals using behavioral measures and functional magnetic resonance imaging. Participants showed slower reaction times and increased activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in the mixed language condition relative to single language condition. There was no evidence that each language was represented in different areas of the brain. Results are consistent with the view that language switching is a part of a general executive attentional system and that languages are represented in overlapping areas of the brain in early bilinguals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Multilingualism*
  • Photic Stimulation*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Reaction Time
  • Vocabulary*