Beyond bilingualism: multilingual experience correlates with caudate volume

Abstract

The multilingual brain implements mechanisms that serve to select the appropriate language as a function of the communicative environment. Engaging these mechanisms on a regular basis appears to have consequences for brain structure and function. Studies have implicated the caudate nuclei as important nodes in polyglot language control processes, and have also shown structural differences in the caudate nuclei in bilingual compared to monolingual populations. However, the majority of published work has focused on the categorical differences between monolingual and bilingual individuals, and little is known about whether these findings extend to multilingual individuals, who have even greater language control demands. In the present paper, we present an analysis of the volume and morphology of the caudate nuclei, putamen, pallidum and thalami in 75 multilingual individuals who speak three or more languages. Volumetric analyses revealed a significant relationship between multilingual experience and right caudate volume, as well as a marginally significant relationship with left caudate volume. Vertex-wise analyses revealed a significant enlargement of dorsal and anterior portions of the left caudate nucleus, known to have connectivity with executive brain regions, as a function of multilingual expertise. These results suggest that multilingual expertise might exercise a continuous impact on brain structure, and that as additional languages beyond a second are acquired, the additional demands for linguistic and cognitive control result in modifications to brain structures associated with language management processes.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Of these 67, 33 were multilingual individuals constituting a control group matched to an experimental sample of 34 trainee simultaneous interpreters. The trainees were scanned prior to the onset of their simultaneous interpretation training.

  2. 2.

    Although this might be considered a marginally significant trend when applying a one-tailed test, we did not have a directional hypothesis on this question. We hope that future work will help to resolve whether putative language-mediated effects on left caudate nucleus structure are sensitive to age of acquisition of a second language.

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Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to three anonymous reviewers whose helpful suggestions allowed us to substantially improve the manuscript. We also wish to express our gratitude to the staff at the Brain and Behaviour Lab at the University of Geneva and at the Lausanne University Medical Centre who supported the data acquisition.

Funding

This work was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation Grants PP00P3_133701 and PP00P3_163756 awarded to NG.

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Correspondence to Alexis Hervais-Adelman.

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All procedures performed were in accordance with the standards of the local research ethics committees of the University Hospitals of Geneva and Lausanne, and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.

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Hervais-Adelman, A., Egorova, N. & Golestani, N. Beyond bilingualism: multilingual experience correlates with caudate volume. Brain Struct Funct 223, 3495–3502 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-018-1695-0

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Keywords

  • Caudate nucleus
  • Putamen
  • Basal ganglia
  • Multilingualism
  • Bilingualism
  • Language
  • Volumetry
  • Morphometry