Language Experience Impacts Brain Activation in Infancy

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Language Experience Impacts Brain Activation for Spoken and Signed Language in Infancy: Insights From Unimodal and Bimodal Bilinguals.

Recent neuroimaging studies suggest that monolingual infants activate a left-lateralized frontotemporal brain network in response to spoken language, which is similar to the network involved in processing spoken and signed language in adulthood. However, it is unclear how brain activation to language is influenced by early experience in infancy. To address this question, we present functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) data from 60 hearing infants (4 to 8 months of age): 19 monolingual infants exposed to English, 20 unimodal bilingual infants exposed to two spoken languages, and 21 bimodal bilingual infants exposed to English and British Sign Language (BSL). Across all infants, spoken language elicited activation in a bilateral brain network including the inferior frontal and posterior temporal areas, whereas sign language elicited activation in the right temporoparietal area. A significant difference in brain lateralization was observed between groups. Activation in the posterior temporal region was not lateralized in monolinguals and bimodal bilinguals, but right lateralized in response to both language modalities in unimodal bilinguals. This suggests that the experience of two spoken languages influences brain activation for sign language when experienced for the first time. Multivariate pattern analyses (MVPAs) could classify distributed patterns of activation within the left hemisphere for spoken and signed language in monolinguals (proportion correct = 0.68; p = 0.039) but not in unimodal or bimodal bilinguals. These results suggest that bilingual experience in infancy influences brain activation for language and that unimodal bilingual experience has greater impact on early brain lateralization than bimodal bilingual experience.

PMID: 32274469 [PubMed]

Neurobiol Lang (Camb). 2020;1(1):9-32

Authors: Mercure E, Evans S, Pirazzoli L, Goldberg L, Bowden-Howl H, Coulson-Thaker K, Beedie I, Lloyd-Fox S, Johnson MH, MacSweeney M