Skip to main content Accessibility help

A role for putamen in phonological processing in children*



Bilingual children are required to successfully develop phonological skills in two languages, yet little is known about the neural correlates associated with them. We obtained structural imaging data from 30 Hindi–English children aged between 8 and 10 years and used voxel based morphometry to explore neuroanatomical correlates of behavioural measures of phonological awareness. Our results showed that phonological skills in English are predicted by grey matter volume of bilateral putamen, but solely by right putamen in Hindi. Post-hoc analysis revealed that English nonword reading correlates with grey matter volume in bilateral putamen while in Hindi nonword reading it correlates only with right putamen. These differences in putamen-based mechanisms indicate that syllable level awareness sufficiently supports early literacy in the transparent, alphasyllabic Hindi orthography whereas that in English requires both phonemic and syllabic level awareness. Our findings point towards a key role for putamen in mediating phonological and reading skills in children.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Nandini C Singh, National Brain Research Centre, Manesar, India122051


Hide All

This work was supported by Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, and National Brain Research Centre. We would like to thank Mr. Jitender Ahlawat for assistance in MRI data acquisition and Dr. Megha Sharda and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.



Hide All
Abutalebi, J., Cappa, S. F., & Perani, D. (2001). The bilingual brain as revealed by functional neuroimaging. Bilingualism: Language and cognition, 4 (02), 179190.
Abutalebi, J., Rosa, P. A. D., Castro Gonzaga, A. K., Keim, R., Costa, A., & Perani, D. (2013). The role of the left putamen in multilingual language production. Brain and language, 125 (3), 307315.
Berens, M. S., Kovelman, I., & Petitto, L.-A. (2013). Should bilingual children learn reading in two languages at the same time or in sequence? Bilingual research journal, 36 (1), 3560.
Caravolas, M., & Bruck, M. (1993). The Effect of Oral and Written Language Input on Children′ s Phonological Awareness: A Cross-Linguistic Study. Journal of experimental child psychology, 55 (1), 130.
Castro-Caldas, A., Petersson, K. M., Reis, A., Stone-Elander, S., & Ingvar, M. (1998). The illiterate brain. Learning to read and write during childhood influences the functional organization of the adult brain. Brain, 121 (6), 10531063.
Chuang, H.-K., Joshi, R. M., & Dixon, L. Q. (2011). Cross-Language Transfer of Reading Ability: Evidence From Taiwanese Ninth Grade Adolescents. Journal of Literacy Research, 1086296X11431157.
Cummins, J. (1979). Linguistic interdependence and the educational development of bilingual children. Review of educational research, 49 (2), 222251.
David, C. (1997). English as a global language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dixon, L. Q., Chuang, H.-K., & Quiroz, B. (2012). English phonological awareness in bilinguals: a cross-linguistic study of Tamil, Malay and Chinese English-language learners. Journal of Research in Reading, 35 (4), 372392.
Durgunoğlu, A. Y. (2002). Cross-linguistic transfer in literacy development and implications for language learners. Annals of Dyslexia, 52 (1), 189204.
Durgunoğlu, A. Y., Nagy, W. E., & Hancin-Bhatt, B. J. (1993). Cross-language transfer of phonological awareness. Journal of educational psychology, 85 (3), 453.
Frederickson, N., Frith, U., & Reason, R. (1997). Phonological Assessment Battery (manual and test materials).
Friston, K. J., Frith, C., Liddle, P., & Frackowiak, R. (1991). Comparing functional (PET) images: the assessment of significant change. Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism, 11 (4), 690699.
Geva, E., & Wang, M. (2001). The development of basic reading skills in children: A cross-language perspective. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 21, 182204.
Giraud, A.-L., & Poeppel, D. (2012). Cortical oscillations and speech processing: emerging computational principles and operations. Nature neuroscience, 15 (4), 511517.
Goswami, U. (2001). Early phonological development and the acquisition of literacy. Handbook of early literacy research, 1, 111125.
Gottardo, A., Yan, B., Siegel, L. S., & Wade-Woolley, L. (2001). Factors related to English reading performance in children with Chinese as a first language: More evidence of cross-language transfer of phonological processing. Journal of educational psychology, 93 (3), 530.
Harm, M. W., & Seidenberg, M. S. (1999). Phonology, reading acquisition, and dyslexia: insights from connectionist models. Psychological review, 106 (3), 491.
Hartzell, J. F., Davis, B., Melcher, D., Miceli, G., Jovicich, J., Nath, T., Singh, N. C., & Hasson, U. (2015). Brains of verbal memory specialists show anatomical differences in language, memory and visual systems. NeuroImage.
Hervais-Adelman, A., Moser-Mercer, B., Michel, C. M., & Golestani, N. (2014). fMRI of simultaneous interpretation reveals the neural basis of extreme language control. Cerebral Cortex, bhu158.
Jusczyk, P. W., Friederici, A. D., Wessels, J. M., Svenkerud, V. Y., & Jusczyk, A. M. (1993). Infants′ Sensitivity to the Sound Patterns of Native Language Words. Journal of Memory and Language, 32 (3), 402420.
Klein, D., Milner, B., Zatorre, R. J., Meyer, E., & Evans, A. C. (1995). The neural substrates underlying word generation: a bilingual functional-imaging study. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 92 (7), 28992903.
Klein, D., Watkins, K. E., Zatorre, R. J., & Milner, B. (2006). Word and nonword repetition in bilingual subjects: a PET study. Human brain mapping, 27 (2), 153161.
Klein, D., Zatorre, R. J., Milner, B., Meyer, E., & Evans, A. C. (1994). Left putaminal activation when speaking a second language: evidence from PET. Neuroreport, 5 (17), 22952297.
Melby-Lervåg, M., & Lervåg, A. (2011). Cross-linguistic transfer of oral language, decoding, phonological awareness and reading comprehension: a meta-analysis of the correlational evidence. Journal of Research in Reading, 34 (1), 114135.
Morillon, B., Liégeois-Chauvel, C., Arnal, L. H., Bénar, C.-G., & Giraud, A.-L. (2012). Asymmetric function of theta and gamma activity in syllable processing: an intra-cortical study. Frontiers in psychology, 3.
Nag, S. (2007). Early reading in Kannada: The pace of acquisition of orthographic knowledge and phonemic awareness. Journal of Research in Reading, 30 (1), 722.
Nag, S., Caravolas, M., & Snowling, M. J. (2011). Beyond alphabetic processes: literacy and its acquisition in the alphasyllabic languages. Reading and Writing, 24 (6), 615622.
Perani, D., & Abutalebi, J. (2005). The neural basis of first and second language processing. Current opinion in neurobiology, 15 (2), 202206.
Perfetti, C. A. (1992). The representation problem in reading acquisition.
Preston, J. L., Frost, S. J., Mencl, W. E., Fulbright, R. K., Landi, N., Grigorenko, E., Jacobsen, L., & Pugh, K. R. (2010). Early and late talkers: school-age language, literacy and neurolinguistic differences. Brain, 133 (8), 21852195.
Price, C. J., Green, D. W., & Von Studnitz, R. (1999). A functional imaging study of translation and language switching. Brain, 122 (12), 22212235.
Saiegh-Haddad, E., & Geva, E. (2008). Morphological awareness, phonological awareness, and reading in English–Arabic bilingual children. Reading and Writing, 21 (5), 481504.
Schwartz, M., Geva, E., Share, D. L., & Leikin, M. (2007). Learning to read in English as third language The cross-linguistic transfer of phonological processing skills. Written Language & Literacy, 10 (1), 2552.
Tettamanti, M., Moro, A., Messa, C., Moresco, R. M., Rizzo, G., Carpinelli, A., Matarrese, M., Fazio, F., & Perani, D. (2005). Basal ganglia and language: phonology modulates dopaminergic release. Neuroreport, 16 (4), 397401.
Tiwari, S., Nair, R., & Krishnan, G. (2011). A preliminary investigation of akshara knowledge in the Malayalam alphasyllabary: extension of Nag's (2007) study. Writing Systems Research, 3 (2), 145151.
Tzourio-Mazoyer, N., Landeau, B., Papathanassiou, D., Crivello, F., Etard, O., Delcroix, N., Mazoyer, B., & Joliot, M. (2002). Automated anatomical labeling of activations in SPM using a macroscopic anatomical parcellation of the MNI MRI single-subject brain. Neuroimage, 15 (1), 273289.
Vaid, J., & Gupta, A. (2002). Exploring word recognition in a semi-alphabetic script: The case of Devanagari. Brain and Language, 81 (1), 679690.
Vasanta, D. (2004). Processing phonological information in a semi-syllabic script: Developmental data from Telugu. Reading and Writing, 17 (1-2), 5978.
Vigneau, M., Beaucousin, V., Hervé, P.-Y., Jobard, G., Petit, L., Crivello, F., Mellet, E., Zago, L., Mazoyer, B., & Tzourio-Mazoyer, N. (2011). What is right-hemisphere contribution to phonological, lexico-semantic, and sentence processing?: Insights from a meta-analysis. Neuroimage, 54 (1), 577593.
Wagner, R. K., & Torgesen, J. K. (1987). The nature of phonological processing and its causal role in the acquisition of reading skills. Psychological Bulletin, 101 (2), 192.
Wagner, R. K., Torgesen, J. K., Rashotte, C. A., Hecht, S. A., Barker, T. A., Burgess, S. R., Donahue, J., & Garon, T. (1997). Changing relations between phonological processing abilities and word-level reading as children develop from beginning to skilled readers: a 5-year longitudinal study. Developmental psychology, 33 (3), 468.
Ziegler, J. C., & Goswami, U. (2005). Reading acquisition, developmental dyslexia, and skilled reading across languages: a psycholinguistic grain size theory. Psychological bulletin, 131 (1), 3.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed