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Keywords:

  • writing;
  • character;
  • pinyin;
  • sensori-motor;
  • orthography;
  • phonology;
  • semantics

Abstract

We examined the hypothesis that learning to write Chinese characters influences the brain's reading network for characters. Students from a college Chinese class learned 30 characters in a character-writing condition and 30 characters in a pinyin-writing condition. After learning, functional magnetic resonance imaging collected during passive viewing showed different networks for reading Chinese characters and English words, suggesting accommodation to the demands of the new writing system through short-term learning. Beyond these expected differences, we found specific effects of character writing in greater activation (relative to pinyin writing) in bilateral superior parietal lobules and bilateral lingual gyri in both a lexical decision and an implicit writing task. These findings suggest that character writing establishes a higher quality representation of the visual–spatial structure of the character and its orthography. We found a greater involvement of bilateral sensori-motor cortex (SMC) for character-writing trained characters than pinyin-writing trained characters in the lexical decision task, suggesting that learning by doing invokes greater interaction with sensori-motor information during character recognition. Furthermore, we found a correlation of recognition accuracy with activation in right superior parietal lobule, right lingual gyrus, and left SMC, suggesting that these areas support the facilitative effect character writing has on reading. Finally, consistent with previous behavioral studies, we found character-writing training facilitates connections with semantics by producing greater activation in bilateral middle temporal gyri, whereas pinyin-writing training facilitates connections with phonology by producing greater activation in right inferior frontal gyrus. Hum Brain Mapp, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.