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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2020 Jan;108:834-853. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.12.014. Epub 2019 Dec 12.

Bilingual language processing: A meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies.

Author information

1
Centre for Neurolinguistics and Psycholinguistics (CNPL), Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, Italy; Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy.
2
Centre for Neurolinguistics and Psycholinguistics (CNPL), Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, Italy.
3
Centre for Neurolinguistics and Psycholinguistics (CNPL), Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, Italy; The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway; Centre for Cognition and Decision Making, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia. Electronic address: abutalebi.jubin@hsr.it.

Abstract

Notwithstanding rising interest, a coherent picture of the brain's representation of two languages has not yet been achieved. In the present meta-analysis we analysed a large number of functional neuroimaging studies focusing on language processing in bilinguals. We used activation likelihood estimation (ALE) to enucleate activation areas involved in bilingual processing and control of different types of linguistic knowledge - lexico-semantics, grammar, phonology - in L1 and L2. Results show that surprisingly, compared to L2, lexico-semantic processing in L1 involves a widespread system of cortico-subcortical regions, especially when L2 is acquired later in life. By contrast, L2 processing recruits regions exceeding the L1 semantic network and relating to executive control processes. Only few regions displayed selective activation for grammar and phonology. Analyses of language switching highlight a functional overlap between domain-general and bilingual language control networks. Collectively, our findings point to a shared neural network for L1 and L2 with few differences depending on the linguistic level. The emerging picture identifies under-investigated issues, offering clear directions for future research.

KEYWORDS:

Bilingualism; GingerALE; Language; Meta-analysis; PET; fMRI

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