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Neuron. 2003 Jan 9;37(1):159-70.

Early setting of grammatical processing in the bilingual brain.

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Department of Neurology, Charité, Humboldt-University, Schumannstr. 20-21, 10117 Berlin, Germany.


The existence of a "critical period" for language acquisition is controversial. Bilingual subjects with variable age of acquisition (AOA) and proficiency level (PL) constitute a suitable model to study this issue. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the effects of AOA and PL on neural correlates of grammatical and semantic judgments in Italian-German bilinguals who learned the second language at different ages and had different proficiency levels. While the pattern of brain activity for semantic judgment was largely dependent on PL, AOA mainly affected the cortical representation of grammatical processes. These findings support the view that both AOA and PL affect the neural substrates of second language processing, with a differential effect on grammar and semantics.

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