Whether reading in different writing systems recruits language-unique or language-universal neural processes is a long-standing debate. Many studies have shown the left arcuate fasciculus (AF) to be involved in phonological and reading processes. In contrast, little is known about the role of the right AF in reading, but some have suggested that it may play a role in visual spatial aspects of reading or the prosodic components of language. The right AF may be more important for reading in Chinese due to its logographic and tonal properties, but this hypothesis has yet to be tested. We recruited a group of Chinese-English bilingual children (8.2 to 12.0 years old) to explore the common and unique relation of reading skill in English and Chinese to fractional anisotropy (FA) in the bilateral AF. We found that both English and Chinese reading skills were positively correlated with FA in the rostral part of the left AF-direct segment. Additionally, English reading skill was positively correlated with FA in the caudal part of the left AF-direct segment, which was also positively correlated with phonological awareness. In contrast, Chinese reading skill was positively correlated with FA in certain segments of the right AF, which was positively correlated with visual spatial ability, but not tone discrimination ability. Our results suggest that there are language universal substrates of reading across languages, but that certain left AF nodes support phonological mechanisms important for reading in English, whereas certain right AF nodes support visual spatial mechanisms important for reading in Chinese.
Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
Handling Editor: Michal Ben-Shachar