Neuroanatomical correlates of phonological processing of Chinese characters and alphabetic words: a meta-analysis

Hum Brain Mapp. 2005 May;25(1):83-91. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20134.


We used the activation likelihood estimation (ALE) method to quantitatively synthesize data from 19 published brain mapping studies of phonological processing in reading, six with Chinese and 13 with alphabetic languages. It demonstrated high concordance of cortical activity across multiple studies in each written language system as well as significant differences of activation likelihood between languages. Four neural systems for the phonological processing of Chinese characters included: (1) a left dorsal lateral frontal system at Brodmann area (BA) 9; (2) the dorsal aspect of left inferior parietal system; (3) a bilateral ventral-occipitotemporal system including portions of fusiform gyrus and middle occipital gyrus; and (4) a left ventral prefrontal system covering the superior aspect of inferior frontal gyrus. For phonological processing of written alphabetic words, cortical areas identified here are consistent with the three neural systems proposed previously in the literature: (1) a ventral prefrontal system involving superior portions of left inferior frontal gyrus; (2) a left dorsal temporoparietal system including mid-superior temporal gyri and the ventral aspect of inferior parietal cortex (supramarginal region); and (3) a left ventral occipitotemporal system. Contributions of each of these systems to phonological processing in reading were discussed, and a covariant learning hypothesis is offered to account for the findings that left middle frontal gyrus is responsible for addressed phonology in Chinese whereas left temporoparietal regions mediate assembled phonology in alphabetic languages. Language form, cognitive process, and learning strategy drive the development of functional neuroanatomy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic*
  • Multilingualism
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reading*
  • Speech / physiology*