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Sources of Heterogeneity in Functional Connectivity During English Word Processing in Bilingual and Monolingual Children


Sun XXin , Marks RARebecca A , Eggleston RLRachel L , Zhang KKehui , Yu CLChi-Lin , Nickerson NNia , Caruso VValeria , Chou TLTai-Li , Hu XSXiao-Su , Tardif TTwila , Booth JRJames R , Beltz AMAdriene M , Kovelman IIoulia . Neurobiology of language (Cambridge, Mass.). 2023 04 11; 4(2). 198-220


Diversity and variation in language experiences, such as bilingualism, contribute to heterogeneity in children’s neural organization for language and brain development. To uncover sources of such heterogeneity in children’s neural language networks, the present study examined the effects of bilingual proficiency on children’s neural organization for language function. To do so, we took an innovative person-specific analytical approach to investigate young Chinese-English and Spanish-English bilingual learners of structurally distinct languages. Bilingual and English monolingual children ( = 152, () = 7.71(1.32)) completed an English word recognition task during functional near-infrared spectroscopy neuroimaging, along with language and literacy tasks in each of their languages. Two key findings emerged. First, bilinguals’ heritage language proficiency (Chinese or Spanish) made a unique contribution to children’s language network density. Second, the findings reveal and patterns in children’s patterns of task-related functional connectivity. Common across all participants were short-distance neural connections within left hemisphere regions associated with semantic processes (within middle temporal and frontal regions). Unique to more proficient language users were additional long-distance connections between frontal, temporal, and bilateral regions within the broader language network. The study informs neurodevelopmental theories of language by revealing the effects of heterogeneity in language proficiency and experiences on the structure and quality of emerging language neural networks in linguistically diverse learners.