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Domain-General Inhibition Areas of the Brain are Involved in Language Switching: fMRI Evidence from Trilingual Speakers


The prevailing theory of language switching states that unbalanced bilingual speakers use inhibition to switch between their languages (Inhibitory Control or IC model; Green, 1998). Using fMRI, we examined the brain mechanisms underlying language switching and investigated the role of domain-general inhibition areas such as the right inferior frontal gyrus (rIFG) and the pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA). Dutch–English–German trilinguals performed a picture naming task in the MRI scanner in both a blocked-language and a mixed-language context. The rIFG and pre-SMA showed more activation for switches to the second and third language (L2 and L3) compared to non-switch trials and blocked trials. No such difference was found for switches to the first language (L1). Our results indicate that language switching recruits brain areas related to domain-general inhibition. In this way, our study supports the claim that multilinguals use inhibition to switch between their languages.