Skip to main content Accessibility help

Neural correlates of grammatical inflection in older native and second-language speakers*


Speaking a late-acquired second language (L2) involves increased cognitive demands, as has been shown mainly in young and middle-aged adults. To investigate grammatical inflection in older L2 speakers, we acquired behavioral and functional magnetic resonance imaging data, while L1 and L2 speakers performed a grammaticality judgment task. L2 speakers showed higher error rates than native speakers, specifically when incorrect forms had to be rejected. Poorer performance in L2 speakers was accompanied by increased activity in the medial superior frontal gyrus (SFG), indicating the additional recruitment of executive control mechanisms. In addition, post-hoc within-group comparisons of behavioral and neural correlates provide evidence for dual-mechanism models in older adults, suggesting that language processing involves both procedural and declarative memory systems. Moreover, we demonstrated that speaking an L2 requires more executive control and relies to a lesser extent on the procedural memory system than speaking one's own native language.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Kristin Prehn, Department of Neurology & NeuroCure Clinical Research Center, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Charitéplatz 1, 10117 Berlin
Hide All

We would like to thank all participants for their time and effort to complete the study.

Hide All
Abutalebi, J., & Green, D. (2007). Bilingual language production: The neurocognition of language representation and control. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 20 (3), 242275.
Abutalebi, J., & Green, D. W. (2016). Neuroimaging of language control in bilinguals: neural adaptation and reserve. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 4, 699–698.
Alladi, S., Bak, T. H., Duggirala, V., Surampudi, B., Shailaja, M., Shukla, A. K., Chaudhuri, J. R., & Kaul, S. (2013). Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status. Neurology, 81 (22), 19381944.
Ashburner, J. (2007). A fast diffeomorphic image registration algorithm. NeuroImage, 38 (1), 95113.
Bialystok, E., Poarch, G., Luo, L., & Craik, F. I. (2014). Effects of bilingualism and aging on executive function and working memory. Psychology and Aging, 29 (3), 696705.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I., Klein, R., & Viswanathan, M. (2004). Bilingualism, aging, and cognitive control: evidence from the Simon task. Psychology and Aging, 19 (2), 290303.
Barnes, J., Ridgway, G. R., Bartlett, J., Henley, S. M. D., Lehmann, M., Hobbs, N., Clarkson, M. J., MacManus, D. G., Ourselin, S., & Fox, N. C. (2010). Head size, age and gender adjustment in MRI studies: a necessary nuisance? NeuroImage, 53 (4), 12441255.
Berres, M., Monsch, A. U., Bernasconi, F., Thalmann, B., & Stahelin, H. B. (2000). Normal ranges of neuropsychological tests for the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. Studies in Health Technology and Informatics, 77, 195199.
Branzi, F. M., Della Rosa, P. A., Canini, M., Costa, A., & Abutalebi, J. (2016). Language Control in Bilinguals: Monitoring and Response Selection. Cerebral Cortex, 26 (6), 23672380.
Clahsen, H., & Felser, C. (2006). Grammatical processing in language learners. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27 (1), 342.
Courtney, S. M., Petit, L., Maisog, J. M., Ungerleider, L. G., & Haxby, J. V. (1998). An area specialized for spatial working memory in human frontal cortex. Science, 279 (5355), 13471351.
Dale, A. M. (1999). Optimal Experimental Design for Event-Related fMRI. Human Brain Mapping, 114 (8), 109114.
Davis, S. W., Zhuang, J., Wright, P., & Tyler, L. K. (2014). Age-related sensitivity to task-related modulation of language-processing networks. Neuropsychologia, 63, 107115.
Dreher, J. C., & Grafman, J. (2003). Dissociating the roles of the rostral anterior cingulate and the lateral prefrontal cortices in performing two tasks simultaneously or successively. Cerebral Cortex, 13 (4), 329339.
du Boisgueheneuc, F., Levy, R., Volle, E., Seassau, M., Duffau, H., Kinkingnehun, S., Samson, Y., Zhang, S., & Dubois, B. (2006). Functions of the left superior frontal gyrus in humans: a lesion study. Brain, 129 (12), 33153328.
Felser, C., & Clahsen, H. (2009). Grammatical Processing of Spoken Language in Child and Adult Language Learners. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 38 (3), 305319.
Gatterer, G., Fischer, P., Simanyi, M., & Danielczyk, W. (1989). The A-K-T (“Alters-Konzentrations-Test”) a new psychometric test for geriatric patients. Functional Neurology, 4 (3), 273276.
Glascher, J. (2009). Visualization of group inference data in functional neuroimaging. Neuroinformatics, 7 (1), 7382.
Gold, B. T., Kim, C., Johnson, N. F., Kryscio, R. J. & Smith, C. D. (2013). Lifelong bilingualism maintains neural efficiency for cognitive control in aging. Journal of Neuroscience, 33 (2), 387396.
Green, D. W., & Abutalebi, J. (2013). Language control in bilinguals: The adaptive control hypothesis. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25 (5), 515530.
Hahne, A., Mueller, J. L., & Clahsen, H. (2006). Morphological processing in a second language: behavioral and event-related brain potential evidence for storage and decomposition. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 18 (1), 121134.
Henson, R.N. (2015). Design efficiency. In Toga, A.W. (ed.), Brain Mapping: An Encyclopedic Reference. pp. 489494. Academic Press: Elsevier.
Hopfinger, J. B., Buonocore, M. H., & Mangun, G. R. (2000). The neural mechanisms of top-down attentional control. Nature Neuroscience, 3 (3), 284291.
Johnson, M. K., Raye, C. L., Mitchell, K. J., Greene, E. J., & Anderson, A. W. (2003). FMRI evidence for an organization of prefrontal cortex by both type of process and type of information. Cerebral Cortex, 13 (3), 265273.
Mumford, J. A., Davis, T., & Poldrack, R. A. (2014). The impact of study design on pattern estimation for single-trial multivariate pattern analysis. NeuroImage, 103, 130138.
Newman, A. J., Pancheva, R., Ozawa, K., Neville, H. J., & Ullman, M. T. (2001). An event-related fMRI study of syntactic and semantic violations. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 30 (3), 339364.
Ni, W., Constable, R. T., Mencl, W. E., Pugh, K. R., Fulbright, R. K., Shaywitz, S. E., Shaywitz, B. A., Gore, J. C., & Shankweiler, D. (2000). An event-related neuroimaging study distinguishing form and content in sentence processing. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 12 (1), 120133.
Oldfield, R. C. (1971). The assessment and analysis of handedness: the Edinburgh inventory. Neuropsychologia, 9 (1), 97113.
Olsen, R. K., Pangelinan, M. M., Bogulski, C., Chakravarty, M. M., Luk, G., & Grady, C. L. (2015). The effect of lifelong bilingualism on regional grey and white matter volume. Brain Research, 1612, 128139.
Penke, M., Weyerts, H., Gross, M., Zander, E., Münte, T. F., & Clahsen, H. (1997). How the brain processes complex words: an event-related potential study of German verb inflections. Cognitive Brain Research, 6 (1), 3752.
Pinker, S., & Ullman, M. T. (2002). The past and future of the past tense. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6 (11), 456463.
Pliatsikas, C., Johnstone, T., & Marinis, T. (2014a). FMRI evidence for the involvement of the procedural memory system in morphological processing of a second language. PloS one, 9 (5), e97298.
Pliatsikas, C., Johnstone, T., & Marinis, T. (2014b). Gray matter volume in the cerebellum is related to the processing of grammatical rules in a second language: a structural voxel-based morphometry study. Cerebellum, 13, 5563.
Rowe, J. B., Toni, I., Josephs, O., Frackowiak, R. S., & Passingham, R. E. (2000). The prefrontal cortex: response selection or maintenance within working memory? Science, 288 (5471), 16561660.
Rowe, J., Hughes, L., Eckstein, D., & Owen, A. M. (2008). Rule-Selection and Action-Selection have a Shared Neuroanatomical Basis in the Human Prefrontal and Parietal Cortex. Cerebral Cortex, 18, 22752285.
Schel, M. A., Kuhn, S., Brass, M., Haggard, P., Ridderinkhof, K. R., & Crone, E. A. (2014). Neural correlates of intentional and stimulus-driven inhibition: a comparison. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 27.
Shafto, M. A., & Tyler, L. K. (2014). Language in the aging brain: the network dynamics of cognitive decline and preservation. Science, 346 (6209), 583587.
Silver, M., Montana, G., & Nichols, T. E. (2011). False positives in neuroimaging genetics using voxel-based morphometry data. NeuroImage, 54 (2), 9921000.
Taylor, J. S. H., Rastle, K., & Davis, M. H. (2013). Can Cognitive Models Explain Brain Activation During Word and Pseudoword Reading? A Meta-Analysis of 36 Neuroimaging Studies. Psychological Bulletin, 139 (4), 766791.
Tyler, L. K., Shafto, M. A., Randall, B., Wright, P., Marslen-Wilson, W. D., & Stamatakis, E. A. (2010). Preserving syntactic processing across the adult life span: the modulation of the frontotemporal language system in the context of age-related atrophy. Cerebral Cortex, 20 (2), 352364.
Ullman, M. T. (2001). The neural basis of lexicon and grammar in first and second language: The declarative/procedural model. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 4, 105122.
Ullman, M. T. (2004). Contributions of memory circuits to language: the declarative/procedural model. Cognition, 92 (1–2), 231270.
Valian, V. (2015). Bilingualism and cognition. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 18 (1), 324.
Verhelst, N., Van Avermaet, P., Takala, S., Figueras, N., & North, B. (2009). Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: learning, teaching, assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Zhang, Y., Brady, M., & Smith, S. (2001). Segmentation of brain MR images through a hidden Markov random field model and the expectation-maximization algorithm. IEEE Transactions on Medical Imaging, 20 (1), 4557.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1366-7289
  • EISSN: 1469-1841
  • URL: /core/journals/bilingualism-language-and-cognition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed