Humans show variable degrees of success in acquiring a second language (L2). In many cases, morphological and syntactic knowledge remain deficient, although some learners succeed in reaching nativelike levels, even if they begin acquiring their L2 relatively late. In this study, we use psycholinguistic, online language proficiency tests and a neurophysiological index of syntactic processing, the syntactic mismatch negativity (sMMN) to local agreement violations, to compare behavioural and neurophysiological markers of grammar processing between native speakers (NS) of English and non-native speakers (NNS). Variable grammar proficiency was measured by psycholinguistic tests. When NS heard ungrammatical word sequences lacking agreement between subject and verb (e.g. * we kicks), the MMN was enhanced compared with syntactically legal sentences (e.g. he kicks). More proficient NNS also showed this difference, but less proficient NNS did not. The main cortical sources of the MMN responses were localised in bilateral superior temporal areas, where, crucially, source strength of grammar-related neuronal activity correlated significantly with grammatical proficiency of individual L2 speakers as revealed by the psycholinguistic tests. As our results show similar, early MMN indices to morpho-syntactic agreement violations among both native speakers and non-native speakers with high grammar proficiency, they appear consistent with the use of similar brain mechanisms for at least certain aspects of L1 and L2 grammars. © 2016 The Authors.
Previous studies have demonstrated that efficient neurorehabilitation in post stroke aphasia leads to clinical language improvements and promotes neuroplasticity. Brain areas frequently implicated in functional restitution of language after stroke comprise perilesional sites in the left hemisphere and homotopic regions in the right hemisphere. However, the neuronal mechanisms underlying therapy-induced language restitution are still largely unclear. In this study, magnetoencephalography was used to investigate neurophysiological changes in a group of chronic aphasia patients who underwent intensive language action therapy (ILAT), also known as constraint-induced aphasia therapy (CIAT). Before and immediately after ILAT, patients’ language and communication skills were assessed and their brain responses were recorded during a lexical magnetic mismatch negativity (MMNm) paradigm, presenting familiar spoken words and meaningless pseudowords. After the two-week therapy interval, patients showed significant clinical improvements of language and communication skills. Spatio-temporal dynamics of neuronal changes revealed a significant increase in word-specific neuro-magnetic MMNm activation around 200 ms after stimulus identification points. This enhanced brain response occurred specifically for words and was most pronounced over perilesional areas in the left hemisphere. Therapy-related changes in neuromagnetic activation for words in both hemispheres significantly correlated with performance on a clinical language test. The findings indicate that functional recovery of language in chronic post stroke aphasia is associated with neuroplastic changes in both cerebral hemispheres, with stronger left-hemispheric contribution during automatic stages of language processing.