Object. There are conflicting claims in the functional imaging literature concerning whether different languages are represented by distinct brain mechanisms in individuals who are proficient in more than one language. This interesting theoretical issue has practical implications when functional imaging methods are used for presurgical language mapping. To address this issue the authors compared the location and extent of receptive language cortex specific to English and Spanish in neurologically intact bilingual volunteers by using magnetic source imaging.
Methods. Areas of the cortex that were specialized for receptive language functions were identified separately for each language in 11 healthy adults who were bilingual in English and Spanish. The authors performed exactly the same procedures used routinely for presurgical receptive language mapping. In each bilingual individual, the receptive language—specific map always encompassed the posterior portion of the superior temporal gyrus. In every case, however, substantial differences in the receptive language maps were also observed for the two languages, regardless of whether each participant's first language was English or Spanish.
Conclusions. Although the reasons for such differences and their ultimate significance in identifying the cerebral mechanisms of language are subject to continuing investigation, their presence is noteworthy and has practical implications for the surgical management of patients with lesions in the temporal and parietal regions of the dominant hemisphere.