Bilingual brain organization: a functional magnetic resonance adaptation study

Neuroimage. 2006 May 15;31(1):366-75. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2005.12.012. Epub 2006 Feb 3.


We used functional magnetic resonance adaptation (fMRA) to examine whether intra-voxel functional specificity may be present for first (L1)- and second (L2)-language processing. We examined within- and across-language adaptation for spoken words in English-French bilinguals who had acquired their L2 after the age of 4 years. Subjects listened to words presented binaurally through earphones. In two control conditions (one for each language), six identical words were presented to obtain maximal adaptation. The remaining six conditions each consisted of five words that were identical followed by a sixth word that differed. There were thus a total of eight experimental conditions: no-change (sixth word identical to first five); a change in meaning (different final word in L1); a change in language (final item translated into L2); a change in meaning and language (different final word in L2). The same four conditions were presented in L2. The study also included a silent baseline. At the neural level, within- and across-language word changes resulted in release from adaptation. This was true for separate analyses of L1 and L2. We saw no evidence for greater recovery from adaptation in across-language relative to within-language conditions. While many brain regions were common to L1 and L2, we did observe differences in adaptation for forward translation (L1 to L2) as compared to backward translation (L2 to L1). The results support the idea that, at the lexical level, the neural substrates for L1 and L2 in bilinguals are shared, but with some populations of neurons within these shared regions showing language-specific responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Individuality
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Multilingualism*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Semantics
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Translating


  • Oxygen