The role of the left putamen in multilingual language production

Jubin Abutalebi, Pasquale Anthony Della Rosa, Anna Kaarina Castro Gonzaga, Roland Keim, Albert Costa, Daniela Perani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Subcortical structures are a key component of bilingual language processing. For instance, there is now evidence that the head of the left caudate is involved in controlling languages in bilingual individuals. On the other hand, the left putamen is hypothesized to be involved in articulatory processes but little is known on its engagement in bilingual language processing. Here, our hypothesis was that the left putamen of multilinguals is engaged when producing words in the less proficient language. We investigated this issue with event-related functional Magnetic Resonance (er-fMRI) in a group of multilinguals (n= 14) and in monolinguals (n= 14) during a picture-naming task. Further, we hypothesized increased grey matter density in the left putamen as an effect of experience since multilinguals constantly face a major articulatory load (i.e., speaking multiple languages) during life. To test these hypotheses we measured structural differences between multilinguals and monolinguals using voxel-based morphometry (VBM).Our results indicate that multilinguals have increased activation in the left putamen for a non-native language, but only if they are not highly proficient in that language. In addition, we found increased grey matter density in the left putamen of multilinguals compared to monolinguals. These findings highlight that the multilingual brain handles a complex articulatory repertoire (i.e., dealing with multiple languages) by inducing structural plasticity in the left putamen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-315
Number of pages9
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


  • Articulation
  • Bilingual
  • FMRI
  • Language
  • Left putamen
  • Multilingualism
  • VBM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics

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