Consequences of multilingualism for neural architecture

Sayuri Hayakawa*, Viorica Marian

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Language has the power to shape cognition, behavior, and even the form and function of the brain. Technological and scientific developments have recently yielded an increasingly diverse set of tools with which to study the way language changes neural structures and processes. Here, we review research investigating the consequences of multilingualism as revealed by brain imaging. A key feature of multilingual cognition is that two or more languages can become activated at the same time, requiring mechanisms to control interference. Consequently, extensive experience managing multiple languages can influence cognitive processes as well as their neural correlates. We begin with a brief discussion of how bilinguals activate language, and of the brain regions implicated in resolving language conflict. We then review evidence for the pervasive impact of bilingual experience on the function and structure of neural networks that support linguistic and non-linguistic cognitive control, speech processing and production, and language learning. We conclude that even seemingly distinct effects of language on cognitive operations likely arise from interdependent functions, and that future work directly exploring the interactions between multiple levels of processing could offer a more comprehensive view of how language molds the mind.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6
JournalBehavioral and Brain Functions
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 25 2019


  • Bilingualism
  • Cognitive function
  • Executive control
  • Experience-dependent plasticity
  • Language experience
  • Language learning
  • Multilingualism
  • Neuroplasticity
  • Speech processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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