Reading faces: investigating the use of a novel face-based orthography in acquired alexia

Brain Lang. 2014 Feb:129:7-13. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2013.11.005. Epub 2014 Jan 24.


Skilled visual word recognition is thought to rely upon a particular region within the left fusiform gyrus, the visual word form area (VWFA). We investigated whether an individual (AA1) with pure alexia resulting from acquired damage to the VWFA territory could learn an alphabetic "FaceFont" orthography, in which faces rather than typical letter-like units are used to represent phonemes. FaceFont was designed to distinguish between perceptual versus phonological influences on the VWFA. AA1 was unable to learn more than five face-phoneme mappings, performing well below that of controls. AA1 succeeded, however, in learning and using a proto-syllabary comprising 15 face-syllable mappings. These results suggest that the VWFA provides a "linguistic bridge" into left hemisphere speech and language regions, irrespective of the perceptual characteristics of a written language. They also suggest that some individuals may be able to acquire a non-alphabetic writing system more readily than an alphabetic writing system.

Keywords: Acquired alexia; Dyslexia; Orthography; Phonology; Reading; VWFA; Word identification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alexia, Pure / physiopathology*
  • Cerebrum / physiopathology
  • Dyslexia, Acquired / physiopathology*
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Learning
  • Linguistics*
  • Male
  • Reading*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiopathology*
  • Writing*