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J Cogn Neurosci. 2003 Oct 1;15(7):1019-27.

fMRI evidence for cortical modification during learning of Mandarin lexical tone.

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Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA.


Functional magnetic resonance imaging was employed before and after six native English speakers completed lexical tone training as part of a program to learn Mandarin as a second language. Language-related areas including Broca's area, Wernicke's area, auditory cortex, and supplementary motor regions were active in all subjects before and after training and did not vary in average location. Across all subjects, improvements in performance were associated with an increase in the spatial extent of activation in left superior temporal gyrus (Brodmann's area 22, putative Wernicke's area), the emergence of activity in adjacent Brodmann's area 42, and the emergence of activity in right inferior frontal gyrus (Brodmann's area 44), a homologue of putative Broca's area. These findings demonstrate a form of enrichment plasticity in which the early cortical effects of learning a tone-based second language involve both expansion of preexisting language-related areas and recruitment of additional cortical regions specialized for functions similar to the new language functions.

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