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Reading Arabic ‘different’ for the brain –new study

18 May 2011 Leicester, University of

New research by University of Leicester psychologist sheds light on reading differences

Arabic readers recognise words in a different way from readers of other languages a new study has discovered.

This doctoral research at the University of Leicester is analysing the reading differences of individuals as well as across languages - and has shown dissimilarities in how Arabic readers recognise words.

Conducted by Abubaker Almabruk from the School of Psychology, the study has shown there are clear differences in how the right and left sides of the brain recognise Arabic words. 

Almabruk’s study is one of the first to examine the cognitive and physiological processes underlying word recognition and reading in Arabic, providing important insight into the effects of direction of reading, the form of the script and the construction of the language.

His research reveals the intricacies of an everyday behaviour that most people find relatively easy and will help explain why some people find it difficult to read and provide insights into how these difficulties might be remedied.

Almabruk commented:

“Differences in left and right brain function influence the recognition of words each side of where a reader is looking on a page but only when these words are outside of central vision – this reveals both left/right brain specialisation for reading and evidence that the two halves of the brain collaborate when making sense of words in central vision. Native Arabic readers recognise Arabic words most efficiently when they fixate these words at their very centre.” 

“This shows that where we look in a word is very important for reading 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.”

On the possible causes for the reading differences, he said that ”this might have happened because Arabic is read from right to left and words are formed from cursive text (i.e., the letters in Arabic naturally join together, even in printed formats, much like hand-written text in English).”

Dr Kevin Paterson from the School of Psychology added:

“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. The experimental approach that Abubaker has taken in his research promises to reveal a huge amount about how this language and other languages are read and understood.” 

This research is being presented at the Festival of Postgraduate Research on Thursday, 16 June.  The annual one-day exhibition of postgraduate research offers organisations and the public the opportunity to meet the next generation of innovators and cutting-edge researchers. More than 50 University of Leicester students will explain the real world implications of their research in an engaging and accessible way. The event is open to the public and free to attend. More information at http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ssds/sd/pgrd/fpgr.

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