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Science

Skilled Readers Recognize Words By Shape 420

Posted by samzenpus
from the it-looks-the-way-it-sounds dept.
hessian writes "Skilled readers can recognize words at lightning fast speed when they read because the word has been placed in a visual dictionary of sorts, say Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) neuroscientists. The visual dictionary idea rebuts the theory that our brain 'sounds out' words each time we see them."
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Skilled Readers Recognize Words By Shape

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @03:51PM (#38065058)
    Pop quiz! who read it correctly? who read it "first post"?
  • Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tsa (15680) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @03:52PM (#38065064) Homepage

    I always suspected that I read like that. I only have to spell words I don't know, or chop them up into syllables.

    • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by steelfood (895457) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:09PM (#38065428)

      It also explains why we can just as easily read mispelt words where only some of the letters have been switched around. It's not which letters that get switched, but the resulting shape, that determines whether the word is easily readable or not.

      It's also why certain words are constantly spelt incorrectly or mistaken for one another. Not only are the sounds of the variations similar, and sometimes the meaning, but so are the shapes. E.g., you don't see people mistake "they're" for "their", but you see people mistake "there" for "their" and vice versa all the time. Or for that matter, "then" and "than", "effect" and "affect". And at least for myself, the first few times I saw the word "prefect" in Harry Potter, I thought it said "perfect" and kept wondering why they were so arrogant.

      • Re:Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

        by tsa (15680) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:13PM (#38065526) Homepage

        And another thing: English is not my native language and I know a lot of English words I have never heard. Yet I can read them no problem. Another fact in favor of the theory in the article.

        • Re:Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Myria (562655) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @05:23PM (#38066708)

          And another thing: English is not my native language and I know a lot of English words I have never heard. Yet I can read them no problem. Another fact in favor of the theory in the article.

          I am a native speaker and I've learned many words in writing before I learned them in speech. As a result, some of my pronunciations are nonstandard. I pronounce "comparable" as if it were "compare" + "able", even though the standard way is irregular, "comp" + "arable". I tried to pronounce these words from how they were written before I'd heard them.

          • Re:Yes (Score:4, Informative)

            by misosoup7 (1673306) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @07:24PM (#38068140)

            And another thing: English is not my native language and I know a lot of English words I have never heard. Yet I can read them no problem. Another fact in favor of the theory in the article.

            I am a native speaker and I've learned many words in writing before I learned them in speech. As a result, some of my pronunciations are nonstandard. I pronounce "comparable" as if it were "compare" + "able", even though the standard way is irregular, "comp" + "arable". I tried to pronounce these words from how they were written before I'd heard them.

            I don't know why this is even up for debate. If you look at any ideogram languages, you can't just sound out each word. Especially Chinese, where there are character that sound the same but have different characters. Or even the same character can be read differently depending on context. You definitely memorized the shape. The article is definitely right that we must be storing a visual dictionary of sorts. If we had to sound out each word, then ideogram languages would have never been invented, too inefficient.

            But this also doesn't mean that you don't also associate shapes to sounds. The reason you pronounce it like "compare" + "able" is because you associated the shape "compare" to its sound and "able" to its sound. When put together, it would come out as "compare" + "able". This doesn't prove that you sound out the words as you see them. However, English is a language that runs on syllables, and "compare" is a multiple syllable word, so it gets broken up in the official pronunciation of the word comparable.

      • Re:Yes (Score:5, Funny)

        by vlm (69642) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:16PM (#38065572)

        And at least for myself, the first few times I saw the word "prefect" in Harry Potter, I thought it said "perfect" and kept wondering why they were so arrogant.

        In ye olden days of 5 digit /. UIDs, that was "Ford Prefect" from HHGTTG.

        This also begs the question, of like, um, why completely inappropriately used phrases drive some people bonkers and others don't care. My visual cortex knows that "begs the question" is almost certainly meaningless filler and its application 99.9% of the time has no relation to its actual meaning, so I do not process/see it. Ditto uh, um, like. Perhaps like people in the under 30 crowd process spoken language like in a similar way, explaining why they like have this absolutely desperate like need to fill all pauses with the word "like" whenever they speak, like especially in like public.

        • Re:Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

          by idontgno (624372) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:44PM (#38066074) Journal

          that was "Ford Prefect" from HHGTTG.

          Well, to be fair, if you knew what a Ford Prefect [wikipedia.org] actually was, you'd never confuse it with "perfect." XD

          As to the use (misuse?) of "stock phrases" like "beg the question", I assume that some people use those phrases idiomatically (i.e., no literal meaning intended) because they heard someone else they thought worthy of emulating doing so. Because of this, they don't consider if the literal phrase makes sense ("How do I do... what?").

          In the specific (and hilariously controversial*) case of "beg the question", it's possible to torture a nearly-sensible literal meaning out of the phrase ("This begs the question" == "This begs someone to ask the question"), so the correct use derived from the original Latin phrase [lander.edu] (and only sensible in light of Latin's vocabulary and grammar) will die out within a couple of generations, except in philosophical specialist material.

          *Case in point [begthequestion.info]

        • Re:Yes (Score:5, Funny)

          by PCM2 (4486) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:51PM (#38066182) Homepage

          In ye olden days of 5 digit /. UIDs, that was "Ford Prefect" from HHGTTG.

          And in ye olden dayes of 4 digit /. UIDs, it was the captain of your local Praetorian guard unit.

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        Funny but I could have told them this decades ago. I have a learning disability but can read very well as long as I don't have to read out loud. I also have a terrible time reading anything in all upper case.

    • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CaptainPatent (1087643) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:25PM (#38065722) Journal
      Easy Proof
      Which is harder to read:

      This first sentence which is typed correctly and is correctly formatted...

      oR thIS SeConD seNTeNcE wHiCh yOU PrObaBLy doNT reCOgNiZe thE ShaPe oF?

      Thanks to annoying people on facebook, I'm sure we all already knew this.
      • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

        by airfoobar (1853132) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @05:45PM (#38066990)

        That's not a very good proof, I don't think. By reading the first and last couple of characters of each word and measuring their relative lengths, I seem to read that without any trouble at all. A better test would be to remove the whitespace:

        oRthISSeConDseNTeNcEwHiChyOUPrObaBLydoNTreCOgNiZethEShaPeoF?

        Or even to insert wrong spacing:
        oRth ISSe ConDseNTeNc Ew HiChy OUP rObaBL ydoNTreCO gNiZe thEShaP eoF?

  • Interesting... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @03:53PM (#38065088)

    Interesting- I read about two or three times as fast as my wife and we've talked abou this before.
    (frustrating when trying to read an e-mail together on the same PC at the same time).

    She does sound out words in her head- I don't- I just tend to zip over them. There again- speed has its consequences- she tends to remember what she read better than I do.

    I'll be reading a book and then realise I've been on auto-pilot for the last 3 pages and actually have no recollection of what I just read.

    • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by pairo (519657) <gcbirzan@nOspam.gmail.com> on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:00PM (#38065256) Homepage

      I'll be reading a book and then realise I've been on auto-pilot for the last 3 pages and actually have no recollection of what I just read.

      That happens to me too, but what makes it especially annoying is that when I re-read, I recognize it and slowly start remembering what I read.

      • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by vlm (69642) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:09PM (#38065430)

        I'll be reading a book and then realise I've been on auto-pilot for the last 3 pages and actually have no recollection of what I just read.

        That happens to me too, but what makes it especially annoying is that when I re-read, I recognize it and slowly start remembering what I read.

        This happens all the time when my wife is talking at me, the buffer space fills up and lag starts hitting, especially if what I'm hearing is boring or repetitive or uninteresting "Why are you wasting all that time on /. blah blah and the garbage needs to be taken out and blah blah blah" and two minutes later I notice she mentioned taking the trash out so I stand up to do it, and she knows why there was a two minute tape delay and she gets more annoyed. Oh well.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          better that it goes into a buffer, at least, and not straight to /dev/null ...

        • by MachDelta (704883) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @05:09PM (#38066508)

          One thing my girlfriend does that annoys the absolute piss out of me is ask me questions when i'm deep in thought writing an essay or coding. I swear this is my brain at those moments:

          Active process: writeProgram("Project.cpp")
          HARDWARE INTERRUPT: "Honey do you think I should curl my hair or straighten it for tomorrow?"
          caching audio file...
          Abort module(writeProgram);
          exiting to OS...
          exiting...
          loading Awareness.bat
          paging filesystem
          loading recognition:speech(5849932 bytes)
          loading calendar->tomorrow (4355 bytes)
          loading, hair (34382 bytes)
          loading, woman (0? bytes)
          accessing speech drivers
          Speak: "Ah..bu..wha..."
          IRQ conflict detected!
          resolving conflict
          emptying audio cache
          reloading speech driver...
          Ready.
          WARNING: audio recording length: 0 bytes
          Speak: "Um... yes?" ...
          "Why do you never listen to what I say!??"

          • by Xiver (13712)
            I have similar problems when someone comes into my office and starts asking me questions when I'm in a deep coding session. I see their lips moving and I hear sounds coming out, but it is as if they are speaking a foreign language. I usually have to push my chair back, shake my head, and ask them to repeat themselves.
          • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by 6Yankee (597075) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @05:48PM (#38067032)

            Colleague came into my office the other day, just as I was disappearing up the arses of two databases at once (one Postgres, one SQL Server). She asked me if I wanted to go for coffee. Apparently, it took well over a minute to get anything approaching a coherent answer, and the answer was "You'd better go. If you wait until I can answer that question your break will be over." I barely even remember it, other than the unpleasant sensation of trying to drag myself out of there one layer of mess at a time. First time that's ever happened, hope it's the last.

    • by Ichijo (607641)

      I read about two or three times as fast as my wife... She does sound out words in her head- I don't- I just tend to zip over them.

      Does she convert a written word into sounds, letter by letter and syllable by syllable, or does her brain have a direct word-shape-to-sound lookup table?

      • I don't know exactly how it sounds in her head or how her brain works- but, yes, she says she sounds out words in her head as she reads.

    • by Talderas (1212466)

      This is how I read things. My biggest problems is when I see a shape of a word I misinterpret it as another word because the two words are similarly shaped.

      • Yes, this happens all the time to me too...

        We'll be driving down the road- and I'll start laughing- my wife will ask "what are you laughing at" - and I'll tell her that a sign I just read I initially misread as something dirty.

        It's odd how misread words usually turn out to be something dirty.

        • by Ambvai (1106941)

          I just drove cross-country and had that same experience, though I blame it on random crud getting stuck on my glasses having not cleaned them after being stuck in a car all day. My favorite? "KY SLIPPERY" next to a bridge. (ICY)

    • by Binestar (28861)

      I'll be reading a book and then realise I've been on auto-pilot for the last 3 pages and actually have no recollection of what I just read.

      I find I only do this when I'm tired. It is a good indication that I should put the book down and fall asleep. It actually works rather well, because often my brain isn't ready for sleep when I get in bed, but having this happen while reading I'll know I can fall asleep within a few minutes.

    • by Baloroth (2370816)

      I'll be reading a book and then realise I've been on auto-pilot for the last 3 pages and actually have no recollection of what I just read.

      I've done this too, which is why I often tend to read by sounding things out. I'm pretty sure this helps with writing and grammar skills too, since you get not only the meaning but the way the sentence flows and sounds (as anyone who has tried to figure out an improperly written sentence should have noticed). I always sound out sentences when writing.

      On the other hand, I'm pretty sure I'm also mildly dyslexic (not enough to impact me significantly: I think reading a lot when I was young helped overcome any

    • That's because she has twice the input bandwidth you do. Think about it, you just see/recognize the words, but she sees/recognizes them, and also hears them being spoken to her. That's reinforcement using two senses, sight and hearing, against your single sense of sight.

      Her slowness is due to the need to synchronize the simultaneous inputs.

      But she's better off than you, because she can speed up if she decides to read "intelligently". Most sentences and phrases in paragraphs are not essential, and can be

    • Fiction does weird things. If I read an epic that spans several months, in fifteen minutes' time I'm snapping out of an altered state of consciousness where several months have passed. My memory is an interpret-and-rewrite model, where the consequences of an instruction are the permanent storage--so if I read something, my memory is of what the thing is rather than of reading it. I don't recall ever reading several of the Thomas Covenant books, but I recall being there...

      Things like The Gap Cycle more

    • I was going to post and then I realized you'd literally posted everything I was going to say.
      so...

      same here!

    • by Braino420 (896819)

      She does sound out words in her head- I don't- I just tend to zip over them. There again- speed has its consequences- she tends to remember what she read better than I do.

      I first realized I did this when in highschool and was forced to read Things Fall Apart. When taking the test I couldn't even spell/pronounce the main character's name. Luckily, I was able to recognize it later on in the test where the name was typed out.

    • But is that conscious recollection or subconscious understanding?
      I am also a very fast reader, but often when reading new material I skim through it quickly and later will go back and reference if needed. Those times I do need to reference for more details, I know exactly where it is on the page, but I can't remember exactly what it said. Similarly, I couldn't tell you what I just read, but if you ask a question that was answered in it, I will just *know* the answer without being able to tell you exactly w
  • This is news? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lispy (136512) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @03:54PM (#38065110) Homepage

    Interesting. I was under the impression that this is common sense. Maybe I should have spoken it out aloud in order to get all the praise. ;) Pretty interesting still to know that this is scientifically proven now. I wonder if this could be used for learning another language.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I've been reading since age 3 and read at 1500 wpm with 100% comprehension. I could have told them long ago that this is how I do it.

      It's part of my autism.

      • by Binestar (28861)
        so your reading ability goes way down if you use another font? I find that my reading ability is unaffected by fonts (within reason -- I can't read wingdings for example =)
        • Yes. If I see anything set in Comic Sans I am completely unable to read it!
        • by BitZtream (692029)

          No, the brain is rather good at filtering out trivial information ... hence why you can ready letters regardless of which font they are in.

          Do you have a problem reading a letter in different fonts? No? Why would you assume its any different?

        • by dward90 (1813520)

          Most fonts are about the same shape, except for fonts which mimic cursive (at least in English). The style and feel are different, but the shapes stay largely unchanged.

          For me, it explains why it takes me longer to read actual text in fixed width fonts, and why I often forget that variable names in my programs also happen to be English words.

          And it's not reading ability, it's reading speed, which I'd be hesitant to trust self-assessment on with metrics.

      • Re:This is news? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by epine (68316) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @06:28PM (#38067548)

        I've been reading since age 3 and read at 1500 wpm with 100% comprehension. I could have told them long ago that this is how I do it.

        If you ask a group of people to self-assess for leadership skill, eighty percent report above average leadership skills. What seems to be happening is that each person defines leadership as heaps of whichever skill component he/she happens to possess, and not so much of the skill components he/she lacks. They are all telling the truth with respect to variable criteria.

        So I'm wondering, does autism define "comprehend" the same way a non-autistic person does? I read about half that speed, and I don't feel limited by word recognition, but more by the multiple processes of figuring out where the author is coming from (or not, if the agenda is to apply lipstick to a mental vacuum). There are so many layers to discourse analysis it's hard to list them all.

        "Comprehend" could mean retaining information points presented as fact. Or it could mean assigning the dribble of factoids into mental categories "pulled from ass", "brandishing urban legend", "regurgitated from recent popular news story", "manufactured in a pique of convenience", "seduced by right-thinking glean", "outright deception", etc. It's a lot of work when reading to man the airport scanner of psychological bogosity.

        Furthermore, these assessments are fluid and tentative and require a large working reserve of rewritable storage. A model of the author as a reliable or unreliable human being is formed, if the assessment is to care enough to do the work.

        This last effect is most obvious watching movies. I give weak passing grades to diverting films I couldn't care less about. If the movie gets just enough better that I start to care about what it might have been, that's when my harshest judgments are unleashed: I've entered into the punative "made me look" valley where I actually turn on the critical machinery--often to discover not entirely quickly enough that it was a false start. The subset of the movies that make me care and then reward the bother is where I start giving out decent scores.

        Sometime when reading I turn the page, and go "ugh" inside and then feel the overwhelming urge to skip forward half a page or a whole page, or both pages. Then I go "how can you _know_ all this text is worthless in a tiny fraction of a second after the page flip?" So I go back and slog through it and sure enough, in the vast majority of cases, my instant assessment was right on the money.

        Many of the long-winded essays linked from aldaily.com are particularly challenging in this regard. Some of those writers are talented enough to go on for page after page saying hardly anything at all, while defeating the immediate "this is vacuous crap" quick page-turn self defense. It appears that there is a high art to saying nothing in such an elaborate and convoluted way that busting the vacuity of the prose reduces me to my real-time reading speed.

        I once read a piece, Kirkegaard I think, about chasing a bug around a desk with a pin while enduring immense boredom in the classroom. The humanities is where you learn to wield the pin, and make your reader perform as the bug. Not always, but fairly often. What to these people does the word "comprehend" actually mean?

    • Agreed - seems about as obvious as some of the patents microsoft pushes. *BOOM*
    • by vlm (69642)

      Interesting. I was under the impression that this is common sense.

      Some people read by shape and thats why they can be provoked into a killing rage by bad typography, horrible fonts, and awful visual noise like shiny computer/PDA/tablet screens. It stresses them out, like how peering into a fog or concentrating on radio static can be fatiguing.

      Some people read by sounding it out, and they are incapable of noticing bad typography, fonts are lost in the noise of phonics or whatever goes on in there, and visual noise is artsy and cute and to be encouraged.

      I have wondered if

      • by hoggoth (414195)

        > Just flashing my eyes across the screen shouldn't push enough bandwidth to actually OCR the page

        I often have the experience that my eyes glance across some papers on a desk and I notice an interesting word or phrase is in there somewhere but I have no idea *which* paper it is on. I would have to read through everything looking for it.

    • The fact that all but the slowest readers read by recognizing the pattern of the written word rather than sounding it out in their head has been known for decades. It's what led to the academic de-emphasis on phonics for learning reading. Unfortunately, the education experts didn't stop to consider that sounding out the word in your head over and over is how you *learn* to recognize it by sight.

    • by Zedrick (764028)
      It's not news, I remember my teacher telling us about this (how you recognize the shape of words, not letters) back in 1982. It has probably been known for much longer than that.

      Oh well, this is Slashdot "news"...

      (can I take that back? It IS old news, but OTOH it's a cool thing that kind of fits here)
  • Seklild Rderaes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by erilane (787755) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @03:54PM (#38065116)
    Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh?
    • Yup. And I can raed taht etrine tnihg mselyf, brleay soinlwg dwon.

      • by Quila (201335) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:11PM (#38065484)

        As I read, I read to myself in my head, not sounding out letters, but the words as I go. Whenever I see this example of transposition, that voice in my head starts to sound like it has Down syndrome.

      • by mark-t (151149)
        In your comment, I found myself tripping over 'etrine', 'brleay', and 'soinlwn', parsing them as mostly nonsense without rereading the enitre sentence more slowly (actually, I had initially parsed 'brleay' as 'barley'). I didn't slow down even slightly for any of the other words. Not sure what that says about me...
    • Re:Seklild Rderaes (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tverbeek (457094) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:09PM (#38065412) Homepage

      Except that the human mind can read it faster and more reliably when the letters are in the correct order. (And simply correct.)

      Lazy and barely-literate types will mewl "o u new wut i ment", and it's true that a reasonably intelligent person can figure it out, but communication is easier and less stressful when everyone uses standard spelling. The fact that an experienced reader can go beyond deciphering individual phonemes and recognize the patterns is one part of that.

      • by 6Yankee (597075)

        A Spanish-speaker once asked me what "mocho" meant. I had no idea. I asked him for the context: "innit m8".

        The way I see it, it's basic courtesy at least to try and write in complete words, instead of bashing out whatever 1337 lolspeak gibberish hits my fingertips just to save a few seconds - seconds that others will have to spend deciphering my drivel. A post here could be read by two million registered users; is my time really worth two million times as much as anyone else's? If it were, I wouldn't waste

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      While I can read that just fine, that doesn't make it any less obnoxious when people do it thinking they are cute.

  • 2nd Grade (Score:5, Funny)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @03:55PM (#38065150) Homepage Journal

    My daughter come home from 2nd Grade every week with a list of 'sight-words' to focus on - that is, words that were intended to be immediately recognized, not sounded out.

    Glad modern science has caught up with elementary school.

    • Re:2nd Grade (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Crudely_Indecent (739699) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:09PM (#38065420) Journal

      I don't understand how they can latch onto the "sounding out" theory when there are so many examples of ancient cultures using hieroglyphs. There aren't any letters to sound-out in these ancient languages, yet the cultures that used them extensively didn't have problems understanding them.

      Catching up with elementary school, what about catching up to the ancient Egyptians?

      • Do you realize how long Chinese students spend memorizing characters and practicing their calligraphy?

        I'm not so sure the catching up isn't going the other way.

      • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

        The research was there, but it was never solid enough to explain everything, so it was an accepted theory while they looked for something better.

        Sounding out is, I believe, more of a teaching method, and one of those theories where if it works to teach it that way, that must be the way it works to learn. Kinda the same way the sun revolves around the earth, because that's the simplest explanation given what we knew.

        Science is a gold digging slut, giving you what you want or need until something better come

    • Re:2nd Grade (Score:5, Informative)

      by inviolet (797804) <slashdot AT ideasmatter DOT org> on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @05:59PM (#38067162) Journal

      My daughter come home from 2nd Grade every week with a list of 'sight-words' to focus on - that is, words that were intended to be immediately recognized, not sounded out.

      Glad modern science has caught up with elementary school.

      That teaching method was originally introduced in the 1960s as "Look Say". It was part of the general ideological overhaul of public education, of which the "New Math" was also a part. It all sprang from Russel et. al.'s philosophy of Behaviorism, which pointed away from man-the-rational and towards man-the-animal. Hence reading by memorization rather than by rational system (phonics).

      Since then it has been discredited and so it had to change its name, I think it's called "Whole Language" now. It still competes with Phonics. This new research suggests the reason why Look Say is not the total failure that I and others predicted. However, it has a bit of difficulty explaining why (as others in this thread have pointed out) we can so easily read words whose internal letters are jumbled, so long as the first and last letters are correct.

  • Often when I am reading, especially if I am tired or kind of zoned out, I will find myself almost skimming over words and reading them, but not really seeing them. I'll be at one spot on the page, then the next thing I know I will find myself several lines, if not a paragraph or 2, away from where I last remember reading, but I will have read the words without realizing it, and can remember what I read.
  • We do both (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AlienSexist (686923) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @03:56PM (#38065158)
    Yes it is a visual dictionary and if it is a cache-miss, then the fallback behavior is to re-parse the word slowly and sound it out. After a few encounters with a strange word it becomes visually cached as well. Parsing a word is far slower, of course, and is not the default behavior.
    • Re:We do both (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Broolucks (1978922) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:23PM (#38065672)

      I actually often skip even the fallback behavior. This happens especially often when I read novels that take place in foreign locations and the characters have names that I am not accustomed to reading. I read the book from cover to cover and then realize I have not the slightest clue what the main character is named. I recognize the overall shape of the name and the letter it starts with, but the rest is a jumbled mental mess, because I never took the time to read it and sound it out. For instance, while reading Crime and Punishment, to me, the main character's name was always R***********kov, and it would have been R********** if not for the character named R***********khin I had to tell him apart from.

      Visual caching does not require re-parsing and sounding the word. You can just cache an unparsed blob. In general, I only bother parsing and sounding out a word if I expect to hear it, say it or write it later on. For this reason, when I read a name, a neologism or an unknown word that I can guess from the context, I rarely ever bother parsing it. Maybe it's just me, though.

  • Especially for non-character based writing like Chinese.

    • by ddxexex (1664191)

      Especially for non-character based writing like Chinese.

      Saying it's a non-character based language doesn't seem to be the way you want to phrase it. Most kanji have a couple of main pronunciations which you can pretty consistently figure out. The big difference from the Latin writing system and the Chinese writing system is that chinese characters also have a meaning assigned to them. (And words tend to be more compact) You can still write out things fully phonetically in Chinese Characters. But with the Harry Potter books, the translators went to some lengths t

  • ...and why I am a fairly slow reader.

    Interestingly, though, my fingers on a keyboard has become yet another form of brain-to-external-world communications. So words and meanings come out through patterns of movement in my fingers. I think "word" and the movements for "word" comes out in my fingers. The "sound" for "word" doesn't necessarily go through my brain unless I am thinking that way -- when I am more relaxed and less deliberate, words go directly from my brain to my finger movements.

    Consequently,

  • by vux984 (928602) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:01PM (#38065286)

    It's already been well established that at least many people read this way.

    Its common knowledge that most people can read normal (lower) case text faster than upper case text. And it has long been surmised that its due to the much better word shape diversity of lower case.

    Its also common knowledge that most people can read jumbled up words with very little difficulty, as long as the first and last letters are correct, and the rest of the letters are in there in a random order.

    Such as:

    "I cnduo't bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae."

    Given the number of people who can read the above almost effortlessly, anyone clinging to the theory that fast readers are "sounding words out" needs to be clubbed over the head with a baseball bat.

    It also rebuts the premise of the article that we read by word shape. Its clearly a bit more complicated than that.

    I expect we simultaneously look at word shape, the leading and closing letters, the length, and the middle letters along with some "predictive" matching based on context cues so we can narrow down likely candidate words that "fit" the sentence.

    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:23PM (#38065674)

      What's important is that this is finally becoming established fact. Hooked on Phonics (and its sibling programs used the nation over for the past 20 years) produced a load of kids (in my generation specifically) who could barely read aloud at half their speaking pace. Phonics is an important skill for anyone who is literate but we have dedicated hundreds of hours of education time to it when at least some of that time should have been going to sight based reading. It isn't the difference between fast and slow readers, it's the difference between being able to read, and being able to read and comprehend while you do so.

      Incidentally, your scrambled words example is a great way to show that word shape is very important, more important than just "the first and last letters". Look at the believe. Scrambled as it is in your example the word shape is identical (bvleiee) but if you scramble it in a way that moves the tall 'l' around it's much harder to read (beivele). The text that went around the internet that you are quoting from is very carefully constructed to be as easy to read as possible. actually becomes aulaclty, according becomes aocdcrnig. There are other tricks used also, making sure that the trickier to decode words have lots of context, preserving multi-letter characters, preserving important syllables, etc. It's a neat piece of brain hacking, but it isn't quite what it's made out to be.
                           

      • by vux984 (928602)

        Incidentally, your scrambled words example is a great way to show that word shape is very important, more important than just "the first and last letters".

        Oh I agree shape is very important, and yes, that text was careful to preserve shape.

        But its clearly more than -just- shape, because if you preserve the shape but start replacing those inner letters with other similiarly shapped letters it breaks down.

        Shape is just a filter used to narrow it down to candidate words. Inner letters flters it down further. O

  • by arthurh3535 (447288) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:02PM (#38065306)

    ...and forces you to consider the matter more in depth. It breaks the normal shape of words and sentences.

  • Road signs (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:03PM (#38065312)

    When the British decided to implement their current system of road direction signs, they switched from all-caps to mixed-case precisely for this reason: people remember the general shapes of words and the positioning of ascenders and descenders, thus people found it far easier to distinguish, say, "Brighton" than "BRIGHTON". This was many decades ago - how is this news?

  • by coldfarnorth (799174) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:05PM (#38065340)

    Microsoft, of all places, has a pretty good webpage on this. [microsoft.com]

    Check out the "Model 1: Word Shape" section, in which this theory is described as "oldest model in the psychological literature, and is likely much older than the psychological literature"

    There's some other interesting sections there too, like the moving window study.

  • I often read street signs at night, making out the word before the letters are truly readable, so obviously I'm not actually "reading" in the sense that I'm recognizing individual letters. But normally is sound out the individual words in my head. I'm a slow reader, and that is a hindrance in the computer industry (plus, I miss the enjoyment of reading a lot of books, because it just takes to long).

    Could I read faster if I could somehow train myself to do this word recognition thing?

  • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:06PM (#38065372)

    I frequently don't have to read words directly because I can detect them through peripheral vision and context.

    Perhaps related to this, I frequently get distracted while reading but keep going, understanding the meaning of the language but not becoming aware of the individual words.

  • it's called skim-reading. i read a 300-page novel in about 2 hours, but that's a leisurely pace, for me. i can do 3 lines at a time if i want, just read the first words, jump several and diagonally down, hit the end of the 3rd line, repeat. eyes spot paragraph beginnings and ends and focus on those: this is standard stuff if you've ever read tony buzan's books, what's the big deal? i don't recall - ever - my lips moving, or there being any "sounds" occurring in my bwwaiiiin. yes there's a sort-of delay

    • by dward90 (1813520)

      I'm an auditory person. I mentally "hear" every word as if someone is speaking. It happens more quickly than people are generally capable of speaking, but I still run the mental auditory pathway for every word. It's simply how I'm accustomed to processing written text, and how I remember that text most easily. Coincidentally, it also means that I often can't remember if read a piece of information or heard it in an audio file or video.

  • There are multiple cognitive structures used in reading. There are all kinds of experiments where people can read perfectly well with letters removed from words and/or words with their letter order jumbled. This proves that word shape though probably necessary in speed reading is only one layer on many layers of cognitive infrastructure used in the process of reading as a whole.

  • The visual dictionary idea rebuts the theory that our brain 'sounds out' words each time we see them.

    No, it most certainly DOES NOT rebut that theory, for two reasons:

    (1) Homo sapiens is not a homogenous species; there are mutations - including neurological ones - and divergent evolutionary paths being explored with every single new birth; and

    (2) I am living fucking proof that at least some humans have brains that do in fact sound out words, and quite literally so.

    In order to communicate with a written language, I am forced to subvocalize - literally hear the words in my head - every bit of text that I rea

  • by amoeba1911 (978485) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:19PM (#38065610) Homepage

    We do go by pictures of the words instead of trying to read each letter of the word.

    1. Something written using the words you know but different spelling?
    dis iz nut sum tin hue kan reed faast bee coz you arr juss nut uzed to sea ying eet liek dat.

    2. How about some capitalization to make things hard to read?
    tHiS sEntEnCe iS gOiNg To bE hArdEr tO REaD bEcAuSe yOu cAN't rEcOGNiZE tHe wOrDS aS eAsILY.

    3. how about some number replacements?
    Y0U C4N R34D TH1S TEXT W1TH0UT TO0 MUCH PR0BL3M 8EC4USE 1T 1S L337-5P33K.

    I think for general population, the first example is going to be hardest to read because the words make the familiar sounds but they're not in the right shape. If you go phonetically alone, that should have been easy read. I would think the third example is going to be easiest to read for most people, the words look familiar even though they clearly have numbers instead of some of the letters.

    • by polymeris (902231)

      To mc, it's eccn mcre iccprcccve thct pccple ccn rccd scntccccs like this one, rccccctructing mcst of the lcst infcrmcticn withcct mcch effcrt.

  • I don't know that anyone has ever held a "theory that our brain 'sounds out' words each time we see them".

  • The study's authors are now busy memorizing the shape of the word "Duh."

  • Oprah had a guy on TV so long ago that I can't remember who said this very thing ... he was some super speed reader guy.

    How do I get paid to 'research' things people already know? I'm jealous

  • by frank_adrian314159 (469671) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:45PM (#38066078) Homepage

    This result seems fairly obvious to anyone who has looked at typography. It explains a lot of the rules of thumb used in font design. For example, one of the characteristics of a legible font is that ascenders and descenders are neither too-long nor too-short. Character shapes that are too-expanded or too-condensed or just weird are bad, too. These characteristics probably screw up the shape too much. Same with line spacing. Too narrow makes it hard to see the word shape on either line easily.

  • by pclminion (145572) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:50PM (#38066164)
    Reading words by sounding them out is like adding numbers by counting on your fingers. It's how a novice does it. If people read by sounding words, how would those who are born deaf ever learn to do it? I figured this was obvious, but apparently it isn't.
  • by Twinbee (767046) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @04:59PM (#38066324) Homepage
    Newspapers use thin columns so our eyes don't need to move much. Books and the web could benefit from this approach.

    I wonder if the logical conclusion of this is to format words/letters into a Hilbert or Z-order fractal curve like this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z-order_curve

    This optimizes the locality of the words, and reduces our eye movement to a minimum. At least in theory...
  • by thisisauniqueid (825395) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @06:40PM (#38067696)
    Reading via word shape has been tested since the 80s: See "The Psychology of Reading" by Taylor & Taylor (1989), or read this: http://www.microsoft.com/typography/ctfonts/wordrecognition.aspx [microsoft.com] Apparently one part of the brain looks at global word shape, and another starts reading letters from the beginning and end of the word at the same time, and they both collectively converge on a mutually-consistent hypothesis. But word shape reading is faster and often pre-empts the local feature (letter) reading process.

If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts. -- Albert Einstein

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