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How does the brain read different scripts? Evidence from English, Korean, and Chinese

Abstract

Writing systems differ in various aspects. English and Korean share basic principles of the alphabetic writing system. As an alphabetic script, Korean Hangul has relatively more regular mapping between graphemes and phonemes; however, its letters are written in syllable units, which encourages phonological retrieval at the syllable level. Therefore, we are interested in whether Korean is similar to English in terms of their brain activation because both are alphabetic, as well as whether Korean is similar to Chinese due to their reliance on syllable-level phonological retrieval. This study compared brain activation patterns during a visual rhyming judgment task in English, Korean, and Chinese. The results revealed that among the three languages, Korean and Chinese showed greater similarities in brain activation than either of them showed with English. Specifically, English recruited the left inferior frontal gyrus, left fusiform gyrus, and left superior temporal gyrus to a greater degree than did Korean or Chinese. In contrast, Korean and Chinese elicited greater activation than English in the bilateral middle frontal gyri, left inferior parietal lobule, and precuneus. These findings suggest that the brain network for Korean is not simply depicted as the one typically observed with alphabetic scripts (e.g., English) but rather highly similar to that of Chinese, a morpho-syllabic script, possibly because the Korean writing system leads to syllable-level phonological representation and processing.

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Funding

This work was supported by the “Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities” awarded to Dr. Fan Cao, “Guangdong Planning Office of Philosophy and Social Science” (GD19CXL05) awarded to Dr. Fan Cao, “Science and Technology Program of Guangzhou, China, Key Area Research and Development Program (202007030011)” awarded to Dr. Fan Cao, “National social science fund of China (21BYY204)” awarded to Dr. Fan Cao, and Research Grant from Hanyang University (HY-2019) awarded to Dr. Say Young Kim. We also would like to thank Dr. James R Booth and his lab members for sharing the native English speakers’ data on OpenNeuro.

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Kim, S.Y., Cao, F. How does the brain read different scripts? Evidence from English, Korean, and Chinese. Read Writ 35, 1449–1473 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-022-10263-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-022-10263-9

Keywords

  • Scriptal effect
  • Reading
  • Visual word processing
  • fMRI
  • English
  • Korean
  • Chinese