Reading and Writing

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 239–255 | Cite as

Reading different orthographies: an fMRI study of phrase reading in Hindi–English bilinguals

  • Uttam Kumar
  • Tanusree Das
  • Raju S. Bapi
  • Prakash Padakannaya
  • R. Malatesha Joshi
  • Nandini C. Singh


The aim of the present study was to use functional imaging to compare cortical activations involved in reading Hindi and English that differ markedly in terms of their orthographies by a group of late bilinguals, more fluent in Hindi (L1) than English (L2). English is alphabetic and linear, in that vowels and consonants are arranged sequentially. In contrast, Hindi, written in Devanagari, is an alphasyllabary and non-linear writing system wherein vowels are placed around consonants making it a visually complex script. Additionally, the grapheme to phoneme mapping in English is opaque while Devanagari is transparent. Effects of reading fluency were seen in significantly slower reading times and direct English–Hindi comparison showed left putamen activation for the less fluent language (English). Direct Hindi–English orthography comparisons revealed activation in the temporal pole and caudate nucleus of the right hemisphere, cortical areas known to be involved in semantic and visual processing. We also find activation in right superior temporal gyrus, which we attribute to the syllabic rhythm of Hindi. Our results suggest increased visuo-spatial demands for processing Hindi as observed in other visually complex orthographies.


Bilinguals Devanagari English fMRI Hindi Orthography Reading 



We acknowledge Gurpreet Singh and S. Raghunathan for their support in image acquisition and Chetan Nagaraja for assistance in image analysis. We also wish to thank Ria de Blesser and Isabell Wartenburger, for their valuable comments on an earlier draft. The authors would also like to thank two anonymous referees whose comments greatly improved this manuscript. This research was supported by intramural funding from the National Brain Research Centre, India.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Uttam Kumar
    • 1
  • Tanusree Das
    • 1
  • Raju S. Bapi
    • 2
  • Prakash Padakannaya
    • 3
  • R. Malatesha Joshi
    • 4
  • Nandini C. Singh
    • 1
  1. 1.National Brain Research CentreManesarIndia
  2. 2.Department of Computer and Information SciencesUniversity of HyderabadHyderabadIndia
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MysoreMysoreIndia
  4. 4.College of Education in Human DevelopmentTexas A & M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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