Language proficiency modulates the engagement of cognitive control areas in multilinguals

Jubin Abutalebi, Pasquale A. Della Rosa, Guosheng Ding, Brendan Weekes, Albert Costa, David W. Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Language proficiency should modulate the regions involved in language control in predictable ways during language switching. However, prior studies reveal inconsistent effects on the regions involved in language monitoring [pre-Supplementary Motor Area/Anterior Cingulate Cortex (pre-SMA/ACC)] and language selection (left caudate) conceivably because variations in relative proficiency are confounded with other between-group differences. We circumvented this problem in an fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) study of overt picture naming in trilingual participants. In this case, the difference between a high-proficient and a low-proficient further language can be assessed within subjects with no between-group confound. We also used a monolingual group to assess the neural correlates of switching between two categories of response within the same language. We report a novel result: relative language proficiency dissociates response of the pre-SMA/ACC and left caudate during language switching. Switching between languages increased pre-SMA/ACC response regardless of proficiency differences. By contrast, left caudate response did vary with proficiency differences. Switching from the most to the least proficient language increased the response. Within-language switching, as contrasted with between-language switching, elicited a comparable increase in pre-SMA/ACC response but a decrease in left caudate response. Taken together, our data support a wider role of pre-SMA/ACC in task monitoring and establish the critical role of the left caudate in the selection of the less proficient language in language switching.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)905-911
Number of pages7
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


  • Bilingual
  • Cognitive control
  • Language control
  • Language switching
  • Multilingual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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