How your alphabet shapes your brain
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The Wall Street Journal has a great article which continues the thread of how language shapes thought. This article focuses on the differences between sequential line-based alphabets and symbolic pictorial alphabets, and how those brains differ when doing the same tasks. Confirming what we should all already know, it turns out these different types of languages use entirely different parts of the brain and entirely different methods to parse and process, and thus think in entirely different ways.
Using two brain-imaging techniques, they identified striking differences in neural anatomy and brain activity between children able to read and write Chinese easily and classmates struggling to keep pace. Both were at odds with patterns of brain activity among readers of the English alphabet.
Even when readers in both languages looked at the same written characters, the brain activity was different, other researchers found. Arabic numerals of standard arithmetic -- used by readers of Chinese and English alike -- activate different brain regions depending on which of the two languages people had first learned to read, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and China's Dalian University of Technology reported in 2006.
"In this sense, we may regard dyslexia in Chinese and English as two different brain disorders," Dr. Tan said, "because completely different brain regions are disrupted. It's very likely that a person who is dyslexic in Chinese would not be dyslexic in English."
In a generalized sense, people with Western romance-language brains parse linguistic meaning through a sequential hierarchical rule-based context, eastern cultures tend to do the same thing through logical or emotional juxtapositions of meanings created by particular symbolic groupings. In the West the ultimate point of meaning rests at the top. In the east the ultimate point is in the Center. So it goes.