Neuro-dynamics of executive control in bilingual language switching: An MEG study

Judy D. Zhu*, Robert A. Seymour, Anita Szakay, Paul F. Sowman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bilinguals have a remarkable ability to juggle two languages. A central question in the field is concerned with the control mechanisms that enable bilinguals to switch language with ease. Theoretical models and neuroimaging evidence suggest that a range of control processes are at play during language switching, and their underlying neural mechanisms are closely related to executive function. What remains unclear is when these control processes are engaged in language switching. In this study, we used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to examine the brain activity while unbalanced Mandarin-English bilinguals performed a digit-naming task with cued language switching. Following presentation of the language cue, an asymmetrical switch effect was observed in the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), where switch-related increase in evoked brain activity was larger for switching into the non-dominant language. Following presentation of the naming target, evoked brain activity in the right IFG was larger when naming was required in the non-dominant language compared to the dominant language. We conclude that control processes take place in two stages during language switching, with the left IFG resolving interference following cue presentation and the right IFG inhibiting competing labels following target presentation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104247
Early online date5 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • Bilingualism
  • Executive control
  • Language switching
  • Magnetoencephalography (MEG)
  • Speech production


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