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Bilingual Readers Possess Two Distinct Visual Word Form Areas (VWFA)

By Bbenzon @bbenzon

Do bilingual readers possess two distinct visual word form areas (VWFA) ?
See our new preprint on the cortical circuits for reading in high-resolution 7 Tesla fMRI with @zhanminye, Christophe Pallier and Laurent Cohen :

— Stanislas Dehaene (@StanDehaene) November 21, 2022

Abstract for the article linked above:

In expert readers, a brain region known as the visual word form area (VWFA) is highly sensitive to written words, exhibiting a posterior-to-anterior gradient of increasing sensitivity to orthographic stimuli whose statistics match those of real words. Using high-resolution 7T fMRI, we ask whether, in bilingual readers, distinct cortical patches specialize for different languages. In 21 English-French bilinguals, unsmoothed 1.2 mm fMRI revealed that the VWFA is actually composed of several small cortical patches highly selective for reading, with a posterior-to-anterior word similarity gradient, but with near-complete overlap between the two languages. In 10 English-Chinese bilinguals, however, while most word-specific patches exhibited similar reading specificity and word-similarity gradients for reading in Chinese and English, additional patches responded specifically to Chinese writing and, surprisingly, to faces. Our results show that the acquisition of multiple writing systems can indeed tune the visual cortex differently in bilinguals, sometimes leading to the emergence of cortical patches specialized for a single language.

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