ABSTRACT: In bilinguals, native (L1) and second (L2) languages are processed by the same neural resources that can be modulated by age of second language acquisition (AOA), proficiency level, and daily language exposure and usage. AOA seems to particularly affect grammar processing, where a complete neural convergence has been shown only in bilinguals with parallel language acquisition from birth. Despite the fact that proficiency-related neuroanatomical differences have been well documented in language comprehension (LC) and production, few reports have addressed the influence of language exposure. A still unanswered question pertains to the role of AOA, when proficiency is comparably high across languages, with respect to its modulator effects both on LC and production. Here, we evaluated with fMRI during sentence comprehension and verb and noun production tasks, two groups of highly proficient bilinguals only differing in AOA. One group learned Italian and Friulian in parallel from birth, whereas the second group learned Italian between 3 and 6 years. All participants were highly exposed to both languages, but more to Italian than Friulian. The results indicate a complete overlap of neural activations for the comprehension of both languages, not only in bilinguals from birth, but also in late bilinguals. A slightly extra activation in the left thalamus for the less-exposed language confirms that exposure may affect language processing. Noteworthy, we report for the first time that, when proficiency and exposure are kept high, noun and verb production recruit the same neural networks for L1 and L2, independently of AOA. These results support the neural convergence hypothesis.
Cortex 04/2012; · 6.08 Impact Factor