In alphabetic orthographies, letter identification is a critical process during the recognition of visually presented words. In the present experiment, we examined whether and when visual form influences letter processing in two very distinct alphabets (Roman and Arabic). Disentangling visual versus abstract letter representations was possible because letters in the Roman alphabet may look visually similar/dissimilar in lowercase and uppercase forms (e.g., c-C vs. r-R) and letters in the Arabic alphabet may look visually similar/dissimilar, depending on their position within a word (e.g., - vs. - ). We employed a masked priming same–different matching task while ERPs were measured from individuals who had learned the two alphabets at an early age. Results revealed a prime–target relatedness effect dependent on visual form in early components (P/N150) and a more abstract relatedness effect in a later component (P300). Importantly, the pattern of data was remarkably similar in the two alphabets. Thus, these data offer empirical support for a universal (i.e., across alphabets) hierarchical account of letter processing in which the time course of letter processing in different scripts follows a similar trajectory from visual features to visual form independent of abstract representations.

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