Cross-linguistic influence of first language writing systems on brain responses to second language word reading in late bilinguals



Satoru Yokoyama, Institute of Development, Aging, and Cancer, Tohoku University, Seiryo-cho 4-1, Aoba-ku, Sendai 980-8575, Japan. Tel: +81-22-717-7988; Fax: +81-22-717-7988; E-mail:



How human brains acquire second languages (L2) is one of the fundamental questions in neuroscience and language science. However, it is unclear whether the first language (L1) has a cross-linguistic influence on the processing of L2.


Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare brain activities during L2 word reading tasks of phonographic Japanese Kana between two groups of learners of the Japanese language as their L2 and who had different orthographic backgrounds of their L1. For Chinese learners, a L1 of the Chinese language (Hanji) and a L2 of the Japanese Kana differed orthographically, whereas for Korean learners, a L1 of Korean Hangul and a L2 of Japanese Kana were similar.


Our analysis revealed that, although proficiency and the age of acquisition did not differ between the two groups, Chinese learners showed greater activation of the left middle frontal gyrus than Korean learners during L2 word reading.


Our results provide evidence that strongly supported the hypothesis that cross-linguistic variations in orthography between L1 and L2 induce differential brain activation during L2 word reading, which has been proposed previously.