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Overlap and differences in brain networks underlying the processing of complex sentence structures in second language users compared to native speakers

Weber, K., Luther, L., Indefrey, P., & Hagoort, P. (2016). Overlap and differences in brain networks underlying the processing of complex sentence structures in second language users compared to native speakers. Brain Connectivity, 6(4), 345-355. doi:10.1089/brain.2015.0383.
When we learn a second language later in life do we integrate it with the established neural networks in place for the first language or is at least a partially new network recruited? While there is evidence that simple grammatical structures in a second language share a system with the native language, the story becomes more multifaceted for complex sentence structures. In this study we investigated the underlying brain networks in native speakers compared to proficient second language users while processing complex sentences. As hypothesized, complex structures were processed by the same large-scale inferior frontal and middle temporal language networks of the brain in the second language, as seen in native speakers. These effects were seen both in activations as well as task-related connectivity patterns. Furthermore, the second language users showed increased task-related connectivity from inferior frontal to inferior parietal regions of the brain, regions related to attention and cognitive control, suggesting less automatic processing for these structures in a second language.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.

 

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