How does a stroke affect language recovery in Chinese speakers?

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Paul Anderson

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Paul Anderson  asked the Naked Scientists:
Hi Chris and team,

About a month ago I was wondering if Chinese used a different part of their brain for reading their language than an English person. I seem to have found the answer:

Professor Anthony Kong from the University of Central Florida
"In Chinese there is a higher portion of right hemisphere activation, in terms of processing the language, and this contrasts with English or other Latin based languages in which most of the activations are on the left side of the brain."

He says brain imaging techniques show tonal languages, such as Chinese, make more use of the right side of the brain, whereas the processing for Latin based languages, such as English, tends to occur in the left side.

This means that most of the medical research on re-learning language after a stroke may not be relevant to Chinese speakers as it comes from investigations with English speakers.

It raises some more questions. Is it because Chinese is a tonal language or is it the ideographs? After all Thai is a tonal language but it is written left to right with letters. Thai has the interesting aspect that it's vowels can be surrounding the consonants, so I wonder if folk were to study stroke victims in Thailand trying to recover their language, what that would show?

I think it was King Rama IV of Thailand who said that the tones did not need to be indicated in the language because everyone knew the tones! I wish there had been a subsequent ruler who had suggested that not only the tones be indicated, but that words should be spaced out and not written together in one long sentence.

If the Chinese use the right hemisphere more, is it when they are speaking or reading? Does this imply that the way Europeans study Chinese needs rethinking? Can we consciously direct different parts of our brain to be activated? I suppose we try to dub down parts of our brain if we are trying to fool a lie detector.

If a text is written in both Japanese (involving hiragana, katakana, and kanji [Chinese characters]) and Korean (just hangul, no hanja [Chinese characters]), and a native speaker of each is told to read their text, if they are brain scanned at the same time, would we find that the Korean uses the same part of the brain throughout, whereas the Japanese would be swapping parts of the brain as he encountered kanji?

Also, as hangul is written in syllables, it would be interesting to contrast a Korean reading text with a European reading purely from left to right, without having to read bits at the bottom of a syllable indicating a -ng or -k, or whatever. I suppose in that respect it is not different from reading Hebrew or Arabic where the vowels have been indicated with diacritics.

I assume that reading left to right or right to left alphabets will require the same brain activity.

I am interested in any comment on my idle thoughts.


What do you think?
« Last Edit: 21/12/2009 18:30:04 by _system »


Offline yor_on

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Very interesting, what it seems to say is then that we genetically have different areas of 'specialization' in our brains. But isn't there other research showing that when certain centers gets destroyed other centers can take over after training, delivering the same ability. And that our brain will have the ability to create new braincells with learning too (primarily the cortex I think)
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