Neural correlates of mapping from phonology to orthography in children performing an auditory spelling task


Address for correspondence: James R. Booth, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northwestern University, 2240 Campus Drive, Evanston, Illinois, 60208, USA; e-mail:


Age-related differences (9- to 15-year-olds) in the neural correlates of mapping from phonology to orthography were examined with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Participants were asked to determine if two spoken words had the same spelling for the rime (corresponding letters after the first consonant or consonant cluster). Some of the word pairs had conflicting orthography and phonology (e.g. jazz-has, pint-mint) whereas other pairs had non-conflicting information (e.g. press-list, gate-hate) (see Table 1). There were age-related increases in activation for lexical processing (across conflicting and non-conflicting conditions) in left inferior parietal lobule, suggesting that older children have a more elaborated system for mapping between phonology and orthography that includes connections at different grain sizes (e.g. phonemes, onset-rimes, syllables). In addition, we found that the conflicting conditions had lower accuracy, slower reaction time and greater activation in left inferior frontal gyrus as compared to non-conflicting conditions. Higher accuracy was also correlated with greater activation in left inferior frontal gyrus for the most difficult conflicting condition (e.g. jazz-has). The finding of both a conflict effect and a correlation with accuracy in left inferior frontal gyrus suggests that this region may be involved in resolving the conflict between orthographic and phonological representations.

Table 1. Lexical rhyme conditions varying in their degree of phonological–orthographic consistency
 Similar orthographyDissimilar orthography
  1. Note: * Phonological–orthographic conflicting conditions, in which phonological information (whether the two words rhyme) conflicts with orthographic information (whether the two words are spelled the same beginning with the first vowel).