Hemispheric processing in reading Chinese characters: statistical, experimental, and cognitive modeling
Hsiao, Janet Hui-wen
In Chinese orthography, phonetic compounds comprise about 80% of the most frequent characters. They contain separate phonological and semantic elements, referred to as phonetic and semantic radicals respectively. A dominant type exists in which the se-mantic radical appears on the left and the phonetic radical on the right (SP characters); an opposite, minority structure also exists in which the semantic radical appears on the right and the phonetic radical on the left (PS characters). Through statistical analyses, connectionist modelling, behavioural experiments, and neuroimaging studies, this dis-sertation demonstrates that the distinct structures of these two types of characters allow us crucial insights into the relationship between brain structure and reading processes. The statistical analyses of a Chinese lexical database show that, because of the different information profiles of SP and PS characters and the imbalanced distribution between them in the lexicon, the overall information is skewed to the right. This information skew provides important opportunities to examine the interaction between foveal split-ting and the information structure of the characters. The foveal splitting hypothesis as-sumes a vertical meridian split in the foveal representation and the consequent contra-lateral projection to the two cerebral hemispheres; it has been shown to have important implications for visual word recognition. The square shape and the condensed structure of Chinese characters make them a severe test case for the split fovea claim. Through a lateralized cueing examination and a TMS study of the semantic radical combinability effect with foveally presented characters in character semantic judgements, a flexible division of labour between the hemispheres in character recognition is demonstrated, with each hemisphere responding optimally to the information in the contralateral visual hemifield. The interaction between stimulation site and radical combinability in the TMS study also provides further support for the split fovea claim, suggesting functional foveal splitting as a universal processing constraint in reading. Even if foveal splitting is true, it is still unclear about how far the effects of foveal split-ting can extend from the retina into the process of character recognition. We show that, in naming isolated, foveally presented SP and PS characters, adult male and female readers process them differently, with opposite patterns of ease and difficulty: males responded significantly faster to SP than PS characters; females showed a non-significant tendency in the opposite direction. This result is also supported by a corre-sponding ERP study showing larger N350 amplitude elicited by PS character than SP characters in the male brain, and an opposite pattern in the female brain. The split fovea claim suggests that the two halves of a centrally fixated character are initially processed in different hemispheres. The male brain typically relies more on the left hemisphere for phonological processing compared with the female brain, causing this gender difference to emerge. This interaction is also predicted by an implemented computational model, contrasting a split cognitive architecture, in which the mapping between orthography to phonology is mediated by two partially encapsulated, interconnected processing do-mains, and a non-split cognitive architecture, in which the mapping is mediated by a single, undifferentiated processing domain. Thus, the effects of foveal splitting in read-ing extend far enough to interact with the gender of the reader in a naturalistic reading task. In short, this dissertation demonstrates that foveal splitting is a universal language proc-essing phenomenon, precise enough to project the two radicals of a centrally-fixated Chinese character to different hemispheres to allow a flexible division of labour be-tween the two hemispheres to emerge, and its effects in reading extend far enough into word recognition to interact with the gender of the reader in a naturalistic reading task. The results can also be extrapolated to Chinese word and sentence processing as well as to other languages. This dissertation thus has contributed to a better understanding of the relationship between brain structure and language processes.