Despite the specification of the Korean words (Hangul), which are characterized as phonemes like other alphabetic languages, their shape resembles much more morphemes like Chinese characters (Hanja). The use of functional magnetic resonance imaging permits the collection of brain activation patterns when native Korean speakers (12 persons as subjects) read Hangul and Hanja. The Korean language uses both alphabetic Hangul and logographic Hanja in its writing system. Our experimental results show that the activation patterns obtained for reading Hanja by Korean native speakers involve neural mechanisms that are similar to Chinese native speakers; i.e. strong left-lateralized middle frontal cortex activation. For the case of Korean word reading, the activation pattern in the bilateral fusiform gyrus, left middle frontal gyrus, left superior temporal gyrus, right mid temporal gyrus, precentral gyrus, and insula was observed. It is to note that the reading of Hanja by our subjects activates more late visual areas compared to reading Hangul. The activation of reading Hangul is located more anterior in that late visual area (fusiform gyrus). This suggests that the activation pattern for Hangul reading appears to corroborate that of alphabetic words at the general level. A further noteworthy finding of our study is the strong activation of the posterior part of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (BA 8). The right hemispheric BA 8 belongs to the visual higher order control area and we propose that this area should be responsible for processing of visuospatial (surface form) information of Hangul.
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