BACKGROUND: Reading words for meaning relies on orthographic, phonological and semantic processing. The triangle model implicates a direct orthography-to-semantics pathway and a phonologically mediated orthography-to-semantics pathway, which interact with each other. The temporal evolution of processing in these routes is not well understood, although theoretical evidence predicts early phonological processing followed by interactive phonological and semantic processing. METHOD: This study used electroencephalography-event-related potential (ERP) analysis and magnetoencephalography (MEG) source localisation to identify temporal markers and the corresponding neural generators of these processes in early (∼200 ms) and late (∼400 ms) neurophysiological responses to visual words, pseudowords and consonant strings. RESULTS: ERP showed an effect of phonology but not semantics in both time windows, although at ∼400 ms there was an effect of stimulus familiarity. Phonological processing at ~200 ms was localised to the left occipitotemporal cortex and the inferior frontal gyrus. At 400 ms, there was continued phonological processing in the inferior frontal gyrus and additional semantic processing in the anterior temporal cortex. There was also an area in the left temporoparietal junction which was implicated in both phonological and semantic processing. In ERP, the semantic response at ∼400 ms appeared to be masked by concurrent processes relating to familiarity, while MEG successfully differentiated these processes. DISCUSSION: The results support the prediction of early phonological processing followed by an interaction of phonological and semantic processing during word recognition. Neuroanatomical loci of these processes are consistent with previous neuropsychological and functional magnetic resonance imaging studies. The results also have implications for the classical interpretation of N400-like responses as markers for semantic processing. © 2015 S. Karger AG, Basel.