September 01, 2004
Dyslexia Has Different Causes In Chinese, Western Languages

Li-Hai Tan Ph.D. (who apparently is both Director, Joint Laboratories for Language and Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Hong Kong, China and working currently at the US National Institute of Mental Health) and colleagues found that dyslexia is caused by malfunctions in a different part of the brain in Chinese readers than in Western language readers.

There is no one cause for dyslexia: rather, the causes vary between languages. So conclude researchers who have found that Chinese children with reading difficulties have different brain anomalies to their Western counterparts1.


Instead of letter-to-sound conversion problems, Chinese dyslexics have difficulties extrapolating from a symbol's shape to its sound and meaning.

In alphabetic language readers the problem with dyslexia can be traced to the brain's the left temporoparietal region.

Most dyslexia research has focused on letter-based languages such as English or Italian. These studies suggest the condition is tied to the left temporoparietal region of the brain.

Functional Magnetic Resonanace Imaging (fMRI) on dyslexic Chinese children showed that in readers of Chinese characters the brain problem with dyslexia can be traced to the left middle frontal gyrus (LMFG).

The researchers used sophisticated imaging technology to study the brain activity of 16 Chinese dyslexic children as they performed various language-based tasks.

Their study suggests that for these children, the problem lies in another area of the brain - the left middle frontal gyrus (LMFG).

Do different languages cause humans to categorize the world in different ways? Do different symbol systems for written and spoken language take up different amounts of the brain's resources leaving differing amounts of the brain available to perform other tasks? It seems highly plausible, even probable, that the answer to these questions is "yes".

Different symbol encoding systems place different cognitive demands upon the brain. Also see my previous post Mandarin Language Uses More Of The Brain Than English.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 September 01 07:18 PM  Brain Disorders

Al said at September 1, 2004 11:15 PM:

This is interesting. It reminds me of the Norman Spinrad novel Little Heroes ( in that a minor character in that book had dyslexia so his grandfather (?) had him learn Mandarin because his dyslexia only applied to Western languages...

Randall Parker said at September 1, 2004 11:30 PM:

Al, Many years ago I got about a quarter (or less?) thru Little Heroes and put it down because it seemed so boring. I still have it on the shelves somewhere. Is it worth going back and trying to read it again? Interesting that Spinrad realized that dyslexia might not be constant across languages.

At some point I learned enough that I became too critical of science fiction plots. From a scientific and technical angle I find too many sci fi books to be unrewarding. I'm more forgiving of TV sci fi mostly because it requires less effort. I don't expect much but it doesn't demand much either.

The whole idea of languages differing in their cognitive demands reminds me of Babel 17 by Samuel Delaney. I also liked Delaney's idea that there are people who are compatible with certain other people down to 99.999 whatever percent. With sufficient computing power we could model who would get along with who better.

Jussi said at September 2, 2004 5:46 AM:

"Do different symbol systems for written and spoken language take up different amounts of the brain's resources leaving differing amounts of the brain available to perform other tasks?"

I guess its more like different kinds of resources than different amount of recources. Ofcourse there can be also difference in the "amount" of resouces, but that is something that wasn't shown in this study.

Tj Green said at September 12, 2004 11:07 AM:

Einstein had dyslexia,and probably asperger syndrome.A perfect combination to imagine,then calculate how the universe works.We also see this schizotypal link(schizophrenia,psychopathy,bipolar and dyslexia),as Einsteins son developed schizophrenia.To see our world in different ways,seems highly beneficial for our continued advancement.

Alexandra de Sitter said at October 24, 2004 4:06 AM:

I'm want to make a presentation at school about the different between the Westerse and Chinese dyslexia, but I have to have a intervieuw with someone how no something about it. Do you know someone?

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