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Neuroimage. 2006 May 15;31(1):354-65. Epub 2006 Jan 19.

Native and non-native reading of sentences: an fMRI experiment.

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  • 1Max-Planck-Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Stephanstr. 1a, Leipzig 04103, Germany.


The processing of syntactic and semantic information in written sentences by native (L1) and non-native (L2) speakers was investigated in an fMRI experiment. This was done by means of a violation paradigm, in which participants read sentences containing either a syntactic, a semantic, or no violation. The results of this study were compared to those of a previous fMRI study, in which auditory sentence processing in L1 and L2 was investigated. The results indicate greater activation for L2 speakers as compared to L1 speakers when reading sentences in several language- and motor-related brain regions. The processing of syntactically incorrect sentences elicited no reliably greater activation in language areas in L2 speakers. In L1 speakers, on the other hand, syntactic processing, as compared to semantic processing, was associated with increased activation in left mid to posterior superior temporal gyrus. In response to the processing of semantically incorrect sentences, both L2 and L1 speakers demonstrated increased involvement of left inferior frontal gyrus. The results of this study were compared to a previously conducted fMRI study, which made use of identical sentence stimuli in the auditory modality. Results from the two studies are in general agreement with one another, although some differences in the response of brain areas very proximal to primary perceptual processing areas (i.e. primary auditory and visual cortex) were observed in conjunction with presentation in the different modalities. The combined results provide evidence that L1 and L2 speakers rely on the same cortical network to process language, although with a higher level of activation in some regions for L2 processing.

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