Years of interdisciplinary research have significantly advanced our understanding of optimal methods for reading instruction, orthographic and phonological variables that interact with word identification, and the neural substrates that support reading. However, core theoretical issues remain unresolved. For instance, a specific region in the left fusiform cortex, termed the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA), has been strongly implicated in orthographic processing. Overall, the current findings suggest the region is a core - perhaps even obligatory -- part of the pathway by which the perceptual analysis of written words ultimately provides fluent access to representations of phonology and meaning. In this proposal, we consider an alternative possibility: namely, that the right fusiform cortex can provide an alternative route through which print can gain access to the language system. We will test this hypothesis by examining the effect of cultural (Aim 1), individual (Aim 2), and orthographic (Aim 3) differences on the magnitude, time course, and functional connectivity of the right and left fusiform cortex. We will relate fusiform activity to measures of reading skill, and to behavioral markers for different types of orthographic analysis. The results should inform the theoretical debate about the VWFA, and they may lead to new approaches for the treatment of acquired and developmental reading disorders.
The overarching goal of the proposed research is to determine whether the right fusiform can provide an alternative route into the language system, a possibility that is raised by our findings with native Chinese speakers. The answer will shed light on the ongoing debate about the nature of the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA) and the impact of perceptual analysis upon phonological coding during reading. Longer term, the answer may also have important clinical implications: if the right fusiform can support reading independently from the left fusiform (i.e., VWFA), then it may be possible to design new approaches to the treatment of individuals with acquired or developmental dysfunction of the VWFA.
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