Bilingual individuals need effective mechanisms to prevent interference from one language while processing material in the other1. Here we show, using event-related brain potentials and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), that words from the non-target language are rejected at an early stage before semantic analysis in bilinguals. Bilingual Spanish/Catalan and monolingual Spanish subjects were instructed to press a button when presented with words in one language, while ignoring words in the other language and pseudowords. The brain potentials of bilingual subjects in response to words of the non-target language were not sensitive to word frequency, indicating that the meaning of non-target words was not accessed in bilinguals. The fMRI activation patterns of bilinguals included a number of areas previously implicated in phonological and pseudoword processing2,3,4,5, suggesting that bilinguals use an indirect phonological access route to the lexicon of the target language to avoid interference6.
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This work was supported by grants from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the Spanish government.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Rodriguez-Fornells, A., Rotte, M., Heinze, H. et al. Brain potential and functional MRI evidence for how to handle two languages with one brain. Nature 415, 1026–1029 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/4151026a
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