Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Written Language and Brain Processing

A colleague shared the following article that appeared on Science Daily with me: "Brain's Involvement in Processing Depends on Language's Graphic Symbols."

In the article, researchers claim that Arabic takes longer to process because it cannot be processed unilaterally in the brain; that is, it requires both the left and right hemispheres to communicate in order to process language. What's interesting is that the study compared English, Hebrew, and Arabic. Both Hebrew and Arabic are written from right-to-left and both omit vowels (which are represented as diacritics in the orthography) for native writing. It doesn't surprise me that perhaps English is processed differently, but it does surprise me that Hebrew and Arabic are processed differently. That leaves me to wonder if it is the actual shapes of the letters in the orthographical system that lead to different processing.

The article ends with this thought:
Thus, the question is again raised as to whether in the modern world those who speak certain languages have an advantage over those who speak other languages...
I'd think the next step is to test native Arabic speakers who are fluent (or extremely proficient) in English or Hebrew to see if they still use both halves of the brain to process a language that native speakers can process unilaterally. (And vice versa--study how native English or Hebrew speakers process Arabic.) After that, naturally, it'd be interesting to see how other orthographical systems are processed.