Is language processing universal? How do the specific properties of each language influence the way it is processed? In this study, we compare the neural correlates of morphological processing in Hebrew—a Semitic language with a rich and systematic morphology, to those revealed in English—an Indo-European language with a linear morphology. Using fMRI, we show that while in the bilingual brain both languages involve a common neural circuitry in processing morphological structure, this activation is significantly modulated by the different aspects of language. Whereas in Hebrew, morphological processing is independent of semantics, in English, morphological activation is clearly modulated by semantic overlap. These findings suggest that the processes involved in reading words are not universal, and therefore impose important constraints on current models of visual word recognition.

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