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The brain adapts to orthography with experience: evidence from English and Chinese


Cao FFan , Brennan CChristine , Booth JRJames R . Developmental science. 2014 11 29; 18(5). 785-98


Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we examined the process of language specialization in the brain by comparing developmental changes in two contrastive orthographies: Chinese and English. In a visual word rhyming judgment task, we found a significant interaction between age and language in left inferior parietal lobule and left superior temporal gyrus, which was due to greater developmental increases in English than in Chinese. Moreover, we found that higher skill only in English children was correlated with greater activation in left inferior parietal lobule. These findings suggest that the regions associated with phonological processing are essential in English reading development. We also found greater developmental increases in English than in Chinese in left inferior temporal gyrus, suggesting refinement of this region for fine-grained word form recognition. In contrast, greater developmental increases in Chinese than in English were found in right middle occipital gyrus, suggesting the importance of holistic visual-orthographic analysis in Chinese reading acquisition. Our results suggest that the brain adapts to the special features of the orthography by engaging relevant brain regions to a greater degree over development.