One If by Hand, Two If by See

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Science  14 Dec 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6113, pp. 1398
DOI: 10.1126/science.338.6113.1398-c

Language is a human universal, yet differs across cultures. Reading and writing are learned skills, and it seems improbable that the rather different orthographies observed in French and Chinese would be processed in the same way in the brain. Nakamura et al. showed that readers of French do indeed differ on behavioral measures from readers of Chinese when confronted with words that are either static or handwritten with a forward or backward trajectory, and with either normal or squeezed spacing. The effect of spatial distortion was greatest for the Chinese participants when viewing the forward direction of handwriting motion, whereas the largest effect on the French participants occurred with static words. The neuroimaging results provided a similar double dissociation, in which repetition suppression (due to priming) was observed specifically in Exner's area—a portion of the premotor cortex known to be activated during the viewing of motion—for the Chinese and in the visual word form area for the French. The authors suggest that these areas, along with those that were activated, but not differentially so, constitute a large-scale network that facilitates reading in all cultures, with relative cortical contributions dependent on whether one is reading by eye or by hand.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 10.1073/pnas.1217749109 (2012).

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