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CTDL 131: He’s not dislexic, he’s Chinese

This would seem to be a jumping off point for a fascinating study of how brains process language, and how languages develop. Were the early Chinese societies that developed the language somehow wired different than their western counterparts? Are we pre-disposed to being able to express ourselves better in one given language, but we never know it because we “choose” language culturally and not genetically? (and for your sci-fi story concept, what would a society look like in the distant future where babies are tested after being born and then transported to the X or Y language culture for raising?)

A paper by the University of Hong Kong’s Li-Hai Tan and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrates that people who are dyslexic in one language may not have problems with other languages — particularily if the dyslexia is in a alphabetically written language as opposed to a symbolically written one:

[From Dyslexia in alphabetical languages "evaporates" when learning Chinese for some people - Boing Boing]



  1. John Hayes wrote:

    The concept that someone could be dyslexic in one language but not another is true for as manny different styles of language that exist.
    Presently Chinese pictures and English alphabet are basically the only 2 different styles.

    When I watched encounters of the third kind I thought I would probably be dyslexic in the tone/color language.

    How about learning languages that are only auditory? Listen to any good humpback whale stories lately. Could it really be that we are generally dyslexic is whale language but someone who is not dyslexic in humpback be found.

    All observations and evidence about dyslexia suggest that there is not a single cause for dyslexia. Different dyslexics have different problems as related to reading at least in English.
    Chinese dyslexia problems are concentrated in the visual processing centers because in their written language images need to be learned rather that sounds of letters.

    Only by beliving that dyslexia has one cause and is a single condition can the researchers say Chinese and English readers are different. That is not true. The genetic research that has found genes associated with dyslexia are studies of particular families with a high incidence of dyslexia. There is little evidence of widely spread genetic influences.

    If two families can have different dyslexia genes and yet both families are dyslexic and express their dyslexia in different ways it is hard to argue the single cause od dyslexia position. All the fMRI studies conclude that they can see differences between groups of dyslexics and non dyslexics but can not identify individuals as dyslexic or not.

    It is not that English dyslexics don’t have visual processing problems. It is that people with visual processing problems that are Chnese are concentrated into the dyslexic population because of the need for visual processing is more important to reading Chinese.

    I suggest that English reading dyslexics have about a 25% incidence of visual image processing problems.

    The incidence of Chinese having dyslexia is about 25% of the incidence of English dyslexics .

    I suggest that the incidence of visual imaging processing problems that cause reading problems is the same in both English and Chinese general populations.

    The higher rate of reading problems in English readers is due to having additional tasks to read each task can cause different problems that do not show up in China because different skills are needed to learn Chinese.

    I see See Right Dyslexia Glasses that remove the problems of visual dyslexia at and about 25% of English dyslexics can describe visual problems that make reading difficult.

    Dyslexia is not caused by a single factor. It is a syndrome that affects different dyslexics differently.

    Friday, April 18, 2008 at 11:00 am | Permalink
  2. admin wrote:

    Thank you for commenting. I’ve not done extensive research on dyslexia, and will have to look into what you say further. I’ve also not looked into how learning a right-to-left vs left-to-right language changes the way dyslexics process the information.

    Sunday, April 20, 2008 at 7:46 am | Permalink

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