Brain bases of language selection: MEG evidence from Arabic-English bilingual language production

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Much of the world's population is bilingual, hence, language selection is a core component of language processing in a significant proportion of individuals. Though language selection has been investigated using artificial cues to language choice such as color, little is known about more ecologically valid cues. We examined with MEG the neurophysiological and behavioral effects of two natural cues: script and cultural context, hypothesizing the former to trigger more automatic language selection. Twenty Arabic-English bilinguals performed a number-naming task with a Match condition, where the cue and target language of response matched, and a Mismatch condition, with opposite instruction. The latter addressed the mechanisms responsible for overriding natural cue-language associations. Early visual responses patterned according to predictions from prior object recognition literature, while at 150–300 ms, the anterior cingulate cortex showed robust sensitivity to cue-type, with enhanced amplitudes to culture trials. In contrast, a mismatch effect for both cue-types was observed at 300–400 ms in the left inferior prefrontal cortex. Our findings provide the first characterization of the spatio-temporal profile of naturally cued language selection and demonstrate that natural but less automatic language-choice, elicited by cultural cues, does not engage the same mechanisms as the clearly unnatural language-choice of our mismatch tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number27
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberFEB
StatePublished - Feb 5 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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