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Bilingual exposure enhances left IFG specialization for language in children



Language acquisition is characterized by progressive use of inflectional morphology marking verb tense and agreement. Linguistic milestones are also linked to left-brain lateralization for language specialization. We used neuroimaging (fNIRS) to investigate how bilingual exposure influences children's cortical organization for processing morpho-syntax. In Study 1, monolinguals and bilinguals (n = 39) completed a grammaticality judgment task that included English sentences with violations in earlier-acquired (verb agreement) and later-acquired (verb tense/agreement) structures. Groups showed similar performance and greater activation in left inferior frontal region (IFG) for later- than earlier-acquired conditions. Bilinguals showed stronger and more restricted left IFG activation. In Study 2, bilinguals completed a comparable Spanish task revealing patterns of left IFG activation similar to English. Taken together, the findings suggest that bilinguals with linguistic competence at parity with monolingual counterparts have a higher degree of cortical specialization for language, likely a result of enriched linguistic experiences.

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Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Ioulia Kovelman, University of Michigan, Department of Psychology, 530 Church St., East Hall building, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1043, United States.


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*The authors thank the University of Michigan Departments of Psychology, Romance Languages and Literatures, and Center for Human Growth and Development. The authors also thank the ‘En Nuestra Lengua’ Literacy and Culture Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan, participating families, Lourdes M. Delgado Reyes, Ka I Ip, Jaime Muñoz Velazquez, Paola Velosa, Stefanie Younce, and Melanie Armstrong for their assistance with data collection. Maria Arredondo thanks the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP, Grant No. DGE 1256260). Ioulia Kovelman thanks the National Institutes of Health (R01HD078351 PI: Hoeft). Any opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF or NIH.

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