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No. 105: May-Jun 1996

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English Muddles The Brain

"A boy who struggles to read English primary-school storybooks yet has no trouble with university physics textbooks in Japanese is challenging current thinking on dyslexia. The 17year-old boy, known as AS, is the first person shown to be dyslexic in one language but not another."

AS has English-speaking parents but lives in Japan, where he attends Japanese primary school. He scores poorly in reading English, even lagging behind his Japanese schoolmates, but he understands English like a native. AS is also taught to read the Japanese form of writing called "kanji", in which the symbols carry meaning but have no phonetic value - unlike written English. Curiously, AS reads kanji easily, exhibiting no problems in his visual processing skills. He also does well with the other type of Japanese writing called "kana", where symbols do correspond to certain sounds. Written English is the problem!

AS presents psychologists with two enigmas:

  1. If, as currently believed, a specific part of the brain is reserved for reading, and a person has trouble with one language, it seems logical that he should have difficulties with all languages.

  2. The conventional theory of dyslexia asserts that it is associated with visual processing. If so, AS should find kanji even more troublesome than English.

(Motluk, Alison; "Why English Is So Hard on the Brain," New Scientist, p. 14, January 20, 1996)

From Science Frontiers #105, MAY-JUN 1996. 1996-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987