A predominant theory regarding early stroke and its effect on language development, is that early left hemisphere lesions trigger compensatory processes that allow the right hemisphere to assume dominant language functions, and this is thought to underlie the near normal language development observed after early stroke. To test this theory, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain activity during category fluency in participants who had sustained pre- or perinatal left hemisphere stroke (n = 25) and in neurologically normal siblings (n = 27). In typically developing children, performance of a category fluency task elicits strong involvement of left frontal and lateral temporal regions and a lesser involvement of right hemisphere structures. In our cohort of atypically developing participants with early stroke, expressive and receptive language skills correlated with activity in the same left inferior frontal regions that support language processing in neurologically normal children. This was true independent of either the amount of brain injury or the extent that the injury was located in classical cortical language processing areas. Participants with bilateral activation in left and right superior temporal-inferior parietal regions had better language function than those with either predominantly left- or right-sided unilateral activation. The advantage conferred by left inferior frontal and bilateral temporal involvement demonstrated in our study supports a strong predisposition for typical neural language organization, despite an intervening injury, and argues against models suggesting that the right hemisphere fully accommodates language function following early injury.