Neural basis of phonological processing in second language reading: An fMRI study of Chinese regularity effect

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Abstract

The present study examined the neural basis of phonological processing in Chinese later acquired as a second language (L2). The regularity effect of Chinese was selected to elucidate the addressed phonological processing. We recruited a group of alphabetic language speakers who had been learning Chinese as L2 for at least one year, and a control group of native Chinese speakers. Participants from both groups exhibited a regularity effect in a pilot behavioral test. Neuroimaging results revealed that L2 learners exhibited stronger activation than native Chinese speakers in the right occipitotemporal region (i.e. right lingual gyrus and right fusiform gyrus). Moreover, L2 learners exhibited greater activations in the ventral aspects of the left inferior parietal lobule (LIPL) and the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) for irregular character reading minus regular character reading. In contrast, native Chinese speakers exhibited more dorsal activations in the LIPL and LIFG. According to the “accommodation/assimilation” hypothesis of second language reading, the current findings suggest that native speakers of alphabetic languages utilized an accommodation pattern for the specific requirements of the visual form of Chinese characters, and an assimilation pattern for orthography-to-phonology transformation in Chinese reading.

Highlights

□L2 learners activated the right occipito-temporal regions for Chinese processing. □Chinese regularity effect was associated with the L-IPL and L-IFG. □An accommodation pattern was exhibited for Chinese orthography. □L2 network can assimilate Chinese orthography-to-phonology transformation.

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