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Poster B64, Wednesday, November 8, 3:00 – 4:15 pm, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Dynamics of Brain Functions and Reading in Different Languages OR Why is it hard to read Arabic?

Zohar Eviatar1;1University of Haifa

Writing systems developed in order to allow the reproduction of spoken language. Different cultures have developed different ways of doing this, resulting in different typologies of orthographies. I will report upon differences between reading in English, as it is represented by an alphabetic orthography, and reading in Hebrew and in Arabic, which are represented by abjad orthographic systems. I will then focus more closely on Arabic because it is interesting for both practical and theoretical reasons. Although Arabic is the 4th most spoken language in the world, and is one of the most popular segmental scripts used to write other languages (e.g., Urdu, Farsi), the study of reading in Arabic has only lately become a focus of research. I show data revealing that reading acquisition of Arabic by children is slower than in a typologically similar language, Hebrew, and that skilled reading in Arabic is slower than skilled reading in Hebrew by university undergraduates. I present two possible sources for these phenomena from both a psycholinguistic and a neuropsychological perspective. The first is the diglossia in Arab society, where the language that is written and read is different from the language that is spoken. I show that this difference is great enough to result in bilingual-like performance among Arabic-speaking children when they encounter literary Arabic while learning to read, and that this affects the course of reading acquisition. The second source of difficulty is in the visual characteristics of the Arabic writing system, which together with the complex relationship between graphemes and phonemes, affects the involvement of the right hemisphere in letter and word identification, and in the access to meaning. I present data from both divided visual field paradigms and an imaging study that support this hypothesis. The case of reading in Arabic as an example of the interaction of brain functions, specific language structure, and the language experience of the individual, outlining the seam between universal and specific attributes of the reading process.

Topic Area: Perception: Orthographic and Other Visual Processes

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