The neural system underlying Chinese logograph reading

Neuroimage. 2001 May;13(5):836-46. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2001.0749.


Written Chinese as logographic script differs notably from alphabets such as English in visual form, orthography, phonology, and semantics. Thus, research on the Chinese language is important to advance our understanding of the universality and particularity of the organization of language systems in the brain. In this study, we examine the neural systems associated with logographic reading using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Two experimental tasks were devised, one based on semantic decision and the other on homophone decision. Compared to the fixation baseline, peak activations resulting from semantic as well as homophony decisions were localized in the left middle frontal gyrus (BA 9). Left inferior frontal cortex also mediated Chinese processing. In addition, more right hemisphere cortical regions (i.e., BAs 47/45, 7, 40/39, and the right visual system) were involved in reading Chinese relative to reading English. This is attributed to the square shape of the logograph which requires an elaborated analysis of the spatial information and locations of various strokes comprising the logographic character. We suggest that the left middle frontal area (BA 9) coordinates and integrates the intensive visuospatial analysis demanded by logographs' square configuration and the semantic (or phonological) analysis required by the present experimental tasks. Our study has implicated brain regions common to both logographic and alphabetic languages as well as brain regions specialized in processing logographs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asian Americans / psychology
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Language*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Phonetics
  • Reading*
  • Semantics
  • Visual Pathways / physiology