Word order processing in the bilingual brain

Dorothee Saur*, Annette Baumgaertner, Anja Moehring, Christian Büchel, Matthias Bonnesen, Michael Rose, Mariachristina Musso, Jürgen M. Meisel

*Corresponding author for this work
44 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

One of the issues debated in the field of bilingualism is the question of a "critical period" for second language acquisition. Recent studies suggest an influence of age of onset of acquisition (AOA) particularly on syntactic processing; however, the processing of word order in a sentence context has not yet been examined specifically. We used functional MRI to examine word order processing in two groups of highly proficient German-French bilinguals who had either acquired French or German after the age of 10, and a third group which had acquired both languages before the age of three. Subjects listened to French and German sentences in which the order of subject and verb was systematically varied. In both groups of late bilinguals, processing of L2 compared to L1 resulted in higher levels of activation mainly of the left inferior frontal cortex while early bilinguals showed no activation difference in any of these areas. A selective increase in activation for late bilinguals only suggests that AOA contributes to modulating overall syntactic processing in L2. In addition, native speakers of French showed significantly higher activation for verb-subject-order than native German speakers. These data suggest that AOA effects may in particular affect those grammatical structures which are marked in the first language.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNeuropsychologia
Volume47
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)158-168
Number of pages11
ISSN0028-3932
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 01.2009

Research Areas and Centers

  • Health Sciences

DFG Research Classification Scheme

  • 206-08 Cognitive and Systemic Human Neuroscience

Cite this