Morpho-syntactic complexity modulates brain activation in Persian-English bilinguals: An fMRI study

Mohammad Momenian, Reza Nilipour, Reza Ghafar Samar, Stefano F Cappa, Narly Golestani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Persian language can be considered to have a relatively more complex and combinatorial morpho-syntax than languages like Chinese and English. For example, the Persian verbal system is largely constituted of light verb constructions, in which light verbs are combined with specific items coming from other grammatical classes to generate entirely new verbal entities. This study was designed to examine the mediating effect of language-inherent properties related to morpho-syntax on activation of the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG), a brain area involved in morpho-syntactic processing. To this end, 20 late Persian-English bilinguals were required to covertly generate verbs and nouns from object and action pictures, within a cued grammatical context. Consistent with predictions, the results of an ROI analysis revealed an interaction between task and language in BA 44 of the LIFG and its right homologue, with greater activation of this region during the production of Persian compared to English verbs. In contrast, there was greater activation of the BA 44 during the production of English compared to Persian nouns, consistent with the more effortful processing of their less proficient second language (English). The findings suggest that language-specific properties such as morpho-syntactic complexity can modulate the recruitment of Broca's area, over and above the more well-documented effects of language proficiency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-18
Number of pages10
JournalBrain and Language
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


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