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Both logographic characters and alphabetic pinyins can be used to write words in Chinese. Here we use fMRI to address the question of whether the written form affects brain processing of a word. Fifteen healthy, right-handed, native Chinese-reading volunteers participated in our study and were asked to read silently either Chinese characters (8 subjects) or pinyins (7 subjects). The stimulus presentation rate was varied for both tasks to allow us to identify brain regions with word-load-dependent activation. Rate effects (fast minus slow presentations) for Chinese character reading were observed in striate and extrastriate visual cortex, superior parietal lobule, left posterior middle temporal gyrus, bilateral inferior temporal gyri, and bilateral superior frontal gyri. Rate effects for pinyin reading were observed in bilateral fusiform, lingual, and middle occipital gyri, bilateral superior parietal lobule/precuneus, left inferior parietal lobule, bilateral inferior temporal gyrus, left middle temporal gyrus, and left superior temporal gyrus. These results demonstrate that common regions of the brain are involved in reading both Chinese characters and pinyins, activated apparently independently of the surface form of the word. There also appear to be brain regions in which activation is dependent on word form. However, it is unlikely that these are entirely specific for a given word form; their activation more likely reflects relative functional specializations within broader networks for processing written language.


Journal article



Publication Date





1538 - 1548


Adult, Attention, Brain Mapping, Cerebral Cortex, China, Dominance, Cerebral, England, Female, Humans, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Language, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Pattern Recognition, Visual, Phonetics, Reading, Semantics