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J Neurophysiol. 2011 Jul;106(1):470-8. doi: 10.1152/jn.00343.2011. Epub 2011 May 11.

A comparison of sensory-motor activity during speech in first and second languages.

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Medical Research Council Clinical Sciences Centre, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom.


A foreign language (L2) learned after childhood results in an accent. This functional neuroimaging study investigated speech in L2 as a sensory-motor skill. The hypothesis was that there would be an altered response in auditory and somatosensory association cortex, specifically the planum temporale and parietal operculum, respectively, when speaking in L2 relative to L1, independent of rate of speaking. These regions were selected for three reasons. First, an influential computational model proposes that these cortices integrate predictive feedforward and postarticulatory sensory feedback signals during articulation. Second, these adjacent regions (known as Spt) have been identified as a "sensory-motor interface" for speech production. Third, probabilistic anatomical atlases exist for these regions, to ensure the analyses are confined to sensory-motor differences between L2 and L1. The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and participants produced connected overt speech. The first hypothesis was that there would be greater activity in the planum temporale and the parietal operculum when subjects spoke in L2 compared with L1, one interpretation being that there is less efficient postarticulatory sensory monitoring when speaking in the less familiar L2. The second hypothesis was that this effect would be observed in both cerebral hemispheres. Although Spt is considered to be left-lateralized, this is based on studies of covert speech, whereas overt speech is accompanied by sensory feedback to bilateral auditory and somatosensory cortices. Both hypotheses were confirmed by the results. These findings provide the basis for future investigations of sensory-motor aspects of language learning using serial fMRI studies.

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