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Semantic relatedness and first-second language effects in the bilingual brain: a brain mapping study*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 April 2015

The Neurocognitive Lab for the Study of Bilingualism, E.J. Safra Brain Research Center, Faculty of Education, University of Haifa, Israel Lab of Exp Neuropsychol, Neurology Dept, University Hospitals, Geneva, Switzerland
Lab of Exp Neuropsychol, Neurology Dept, University Hospitals, Geneva, Switzerland
Fundamental Neurosci Dept, Faculty of Medicine, Geneva University, Switzerland
Lab Cognition & Neurological Sciences, Medicine Dept, Faculty of Sciences, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Lab Cognition & Neurological Sciences, Medicine Dept, Faculty of Sciences, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
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Behavioural studies investigating word processing in bilinguals generally report faster response times (RTs) for first (L1) than for second (L2) language words. To examine the locus of this language effect, this study used behavioural data and event-related potentials (ERPs) collected from bilinguals while performing a semantic categorisation task on visual word pairs. RTs revealed both language and semantic relatedness effects. Spatio-temporal analysis of ERP map series showed that the semantic effect was explained by a condition-specific map segment occurring during the N400 component. The language effect was primarily explained by a map segment that started at ~170 ms and covered the period of the P2 component, that was longer in L2 than in L1 and whose duration correlated with RTs. Source localisation showed that this early segment involved the bilateral occipito-temporal regions including the fusiform area. These findings indicate that ERPs differentiated L1 and L2 during early word recognition steps.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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This research was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (grants no 325100–118362) and the Israeli Science Foundation (grant no 623/11). The Cartool software ( has been programmed by Denis Brunet, supported by the Center for Biomedical Imaging (CIBM) of Geneva and Lausanne. We thank Drs Rolando Grave de Peralta Menedez and Sara Gonzales Andino for the inverse solutions, Miss Laurie Handelman for her help in English editing and all the bilingual participants for their invaluable collaboration.


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