How do we know that certain combinations of letters make sense?

Reading and spelling are complex processes, but researchers have now identified a specific part of the brain - the left fusiform gyrus - which makes sense of the written word as well as their correct spellings.

Kyrana Tsapkini, Neurologist and Brenda Rapp, cognitive scientist at Johns Hopkins University, studied the reading comprehension and spelling abilities of a patient who had undergone surgical removal of part of his brain due to a tumour.

The patient’s reading and spelling abilities had been above average prior to the surgery. They tested the patient and a group of control participants using 17 experimental tasks, which evaluated their comprehension and production of written language, spoken language etc.

The results of the study revealed that the patient was able to understand the meaning of spoken language as rapidly as the other participants and was similarly able to process objects and faces in a normal way.

However, he showed significant delays in understanding the meaning of written text and also had difficulty in producing accurate spellings when writing dictated text, suggesting that these abilities required the use of the brain area, which had been removed, said a Johns Hopkins release.

The authors said these findings provide clear evidence that there are particular structures within this part of the brain - the left mid-fusiform gyrus - which are “specialised and necessary for normal processing”.

These findings are slated for publication in the February issue of Cortex.

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