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Reading Arabic or English May Tax Brain Differently

MONDAY, June 6 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that the brain's left and right sides interpret Arabic words in different ways.

The study, one of the few that have explored how the brain understands words and learns to read in Arabic, found that "differences in left and right brain function influence the recognition of words [on] each side of where a reader is looking on a page, but only when these words are outside of central vision," Abubaker Almabruk, a doctoral researcher from the United Kingdom's University of Leicester's School of Psychology, said in a university news release.

"This reveals both left/right brain specialization for reading and evidence that the two halves of the brain collaborate when making sense of words in central vision. Native Arabic readers recognize Arabic words most efficiently when they fixate these words at their very center," he explained.

"This shows that where we look in a word is very important for reading," Almabruk said. "And, the findings for Arabic are different from findings for English and other Western languages, which are read most efficiently by looking at a location between the beginning and middle of the word."

Why might differences exist in how people read different languages? One possibility could be the nature of the languages in print, he said.

"Arabic is read from right to left, and words are formed from cursive text," Almabruk said. "The letters in Arabic naturally join together, even in printed formats, much like hand-written text in English."

"The experimental approach that [Almabruk] has taken in his research promises to reveal a huge amount about how this language and other languages are read and understood," Kevin Paterson, of the University of Leicester's School of Psychology, said in the news release.

"Arabic is one of the oldest and most beautiful languages, and the second-most widely used language in the world, yet how it is read and understood has received surprisingly little attention," Paterson added.

Almabruk's study is scheduled to be presented June 16 at a University of Leicester meeting on post-graduate research. Experts note that research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary because it has not been subjected to the rigorous scrutiny given to research published in peer-reviewed journals.

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SOURCE: University of Leicester, news release, May 2011

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