Writing letters in two graphic systems : Behavioral and neural correlates in French/Arabic biscripters


  • Fabiani Elie
  • Velay Jean-Luc
  • Younes Céleste
  • Anton Jean-Luc
  • Nazarian Bruno
  • Sein Julien
  • Habib Michel
  • Danna Jérémy
  • Longcamp Marieke

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Biscriptuality is the ability to read and write using two scripts. Despite the increasing number of biscripters, this phenomenon remains poorly understood. Here, we focused on investigating graphomotor processing in French–Arabic biscripters. We chose the French and Arabic alphabets because they have comparable visuospatial complexity and linguistic features, but differ dramatically in their graphomotor characteristics. In a first experiment we describe the graphomotor features of the two alphabets and showed that while Arabic and Latin letters are produced with the same velocity and fluency, Arabic letters require more pen lifts, contain more right-to-left strokes and clockwise curves, and take longer to write than Latin letters. These results suggest that Arabic and Latin letters are produced via different motor patterns. In a second experiment we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to ask whether writing the two scripts relies upon partially distinct or fully overlapping neural networks, and whether the elements of the previously described handwriting network are recruited to the same extent by the two scripts. We found that both scripts engaged the so-called “writing network”, but that within the network, Arabic letters recruited the left superior parietal lobule (SPL) and the left primary motor cortex (M1) more strongly than Latin letters. Both regions have previously been identified as holding scale-invariant representations of letter trajectories. Arabic and Latin letters also activated distinct regions that do not belong to the writing network. Complementary analyses indicate that the differences observed between scripts at the neural level could be driven by the specific graphomotor features of each script. Overall, our results indicate that particular features of the practiced scripts can lead to different motor organization at both the behavioral and brain levels in biscripters.

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