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Hum Brain Mapp. 2007 Jan;28(1):19-33.

Late acquisition of literacy in a native language.

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Department of Neuroscience, Vita-Salute San Raffaele University and Scientific Institute H San Raffaele, Milan, Italy.


With event-related functional MRI (fMRI) and with behavioral measures we studied the brain processes underlying the acquisition of native language literacy. Adult dialect speakers were scanned while reading words belonging to three different conditions: dialect words, i.e., the native language in which subjects are illiterate (dialect), German words, i.e., the second language in which subjects are literate, and pseudo-words. Investigating literacy acquisition of a dialect may reveal how novel readers of a language build an orthographic lexicon, i.e., establish a link between already available semantic and phonological representations and new orthographic word forms. The main results of the study indicate that a set of regions, including the left anterior hippocampal formation and subcortical nuclei, is involved in the buildup of orthographic representations. The repeated exposure to written dialect words resulted in a convergence of the neural substrate to that of the language in which these subjects were already proficient readers. The latter result is compatible with a "fast" brain plasticity process that may be related to a shift of reading strategies.

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