Report of the results of a study that I've been long awaiting:
by Chen Wei-han Taipei Times (1/6/16)
TOPIC OF DEBATE: An NTNU [National Taiwan Normal University] psychology professor said the results debunk a myth that Chinese and alphabetic languages are processed by different sides of the brain
Here are the first three paragraphs of the report:
Researchers have discovered that speakers of four highly contrasting languages — Spanish, English, Hebrew and Chinese — show very similar patterns of brain activity during reading and speech, which suggests the underlying network for language processing might be more universal than previously understood.
At a news conference yesterday, where results of three international and interdisciplinary studies were announced, National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) psychology professor Li Jun-ren (李俊仁) said his team tracked and compared reading and speech perception of native speakers of the four languages using functional magnetic resonance imaging and found mostly identical brain activation.
“We could not tell what language a participant speaks from their brain scan, because the same brain areas are activated regardless of what language they speak. We showed, for the first time, that there could be an invariant and universal brain network for reading and speech processing regardless of linguistic differences,” Li said.
Here's a paragraph from the middle describing the crux of the matter:
The finding debunks a myth that Chinese languages were predominantly processed by the right hemisphere, compared with alphabetic languages processed by the left hemisphere, because Chinese was considered a pictorial language and the right hemisphere has been associated with image processing, he added.
And here's the final paragraph that puts the study in historical context:
“About 150 years ago, [French physician] Paul Broca proposed that the left hemisphere is responsible for language processing. Today, our team confirmed that reading, writing and arithmetic processing is done by the left hemisphere, which is a universal phenomenon across languages. The team’s findings are to be remembered for a long time,” former minister of education Ovid Tzeng (曾志朗) said.
Other related investigations conducted by teams at National Yang Ming University led by neuroscience professor Kuo Wen-jui (郭文瑞) and at National Central University led by neuroscience professor Denise Wu (吳嫻) complemented the findings of the NTNU group.
These coordinated studies in Taiwan, carried out with the collaboration of researchers in other countries, have major implications for brain function, particularly in relation to the processing of language.
For those who are interested in pursuing this topic more deeply, I have a pdf with a detailed report in Chinese, together with images of the brain scans and links to numerous reports in Chinese and English.
[UPDATE: At 9:02 a.m. this morning (1/7/16), I received a note from Professor Jun Ren Lee stating clearly that the project involved 18 authors in 4 countries. He wanted me to know that, although he was the one who reported the results at the press interviews held in Taiwan, he was not the leading figure in this study. The first author is Jay G. Rueckl, the corresponding author is Stephen Frost. Both of them are from Haskins laboratories, Yale university. Kenneth Pugh, the president of Haskins laboratories, was the key person who brought all the others together.]
Here is a list of three scientific papers mentioned in the news reports on these major findings:
（1）Rueckl, J. G., PazAlonso, P. M., Molfese, P. J., Kuo, W. J., Bick, A., Frost, S. J., Hancock, R., Wu, D. H., Mencl, W. E., Duñabeitia, J. A., Lee, J. R., Oliver, M., Zevin, J. D., Hoeft, F., Carreiras, M., Tzeng, O. J.,Pugh, K. R., Frost, R. (2015). Universal brain signature of proficient reading: Evidence from four contrasting languages. Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, 122(5), 15510–15515. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26621710 （2）Nakamura, K., Kuo, W.J., Pegado, F., Cohen, L., Tzeng, O. J. L., & Dehaene, S. (2012) Universal brain systems for recognizing word shapes and handwriting gestures during reading. Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, 109, 20762–20767. http://www.pnas.org/content/109/50/20762.full.pdf?sid=e9b066988e8341178 （3）Hung, Y. H., Pallier, C., Dehaene, S., Lin, Y. C., Chang, A., Tzeng, O. J. L., & Wu, D. H. (2015). Neuralcorrelates of merging number words. NeuroImage, 122, 3343 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26226086