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Cerebral organization during sentence processing in English and in American Sign Language (ASL) was characterized by employing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at 4 T. Effects of deafness, age of language acquisition, and bilingualism were assessed by comparing results from (i) normally hearing, monolingual, native speakers of English, (ii) congenitally, genetically deaf, native signers of ASL who learned English late and through the visual modality, and (iii) normally hearing bilinguals who were native signers of ASL and speakers of English. All groups, hearing and deaf, processing their native language, English or ASL, displayed strong and repeated activation within classical language areas of the left hemisphere. Deaf subjects reading English did not display activation in these regions. These results suggest that the early acquisition of a natural language is important in the expression of the strong bias for these areas to mediate language, independently of the form of the language. In addition, native signers, hearing and deaf, displayed extensive activation of homologous areas within the right hemisphere, indicating that the specific processing requirements of the language also in part determine the organization of the language systems of the brain.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





922 - 929


Adult, Brain, Brain Mapping, Dominance, Cerebral, Humans, Language, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Pattern Recognition, Visual, Persons With Hearing Impairments, Reading, Sign Language, Speech Perception