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Learning a specific skill during childhood may partly determine the functional organization of the adult brain. This hypothesis led us to study brain activation patterns using positron emission tomography (PET), in which we compared word and nonword repetition in 10 right-handed native English-speakers (L1) who were proficient in their second language, French (L2), which was learned after the age of 5 years. Regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) was measured by the H2 15O intravenous bolus method with intersubject averaging and coregistration of magnetic resonance and PET images. A comparison of CBF changes when repeating words in L2 with those seen when repeating words in (L1) demonstrated that the pattern of CBF was similar across the two conditions, with several significant CBF differences in the vicinity of the left insular cortex, ventral premotor region, and in the striatum. We hypothesize that these regions are activated when subjects are required to repeat known words, showing increased activity when there are increased articulatory demands imposed by speaking L2. Comparisons of nonword repetition in L1 and L2 revealed increased activity for L2 in the left ventral premotor region and in the cerebellum; rCBF increases were also observed in these regions in both L1 and L2 with increased number of syllables and increased articulatory complexity, suggesting a role for these regions in the complex motor control needed for the production of novel sequences.

Original publication




Journal article


Hum Brain Mapp

Publication Date





153 - 161


Brain, Brain Mapping, Humans, Language, Multilingualism, Positron-Emission Tomography