A Decade of Misunderstanding

by • October 18, 2013

Face Photo Warda PostGuest post by Rosevita Warda

It’s been 10 years that this message is circulating on the Internet. That’s 10 years of people misinterpreting what it means:

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too.

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mind!

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.

The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm.

Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh?

Yaeh, and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

So, what does it actually mean? That spelling is not important?

Why it works

  • We do not read letter by letter. If we did, we could indeed not read this text unless we went through lengthy decoding. The brain is far more creative and powerful. It does not simply unravel words going from left to right, letter by letter. Instead, it is a powerful pattern-processing machine, enabling it to produce useful results even with minimized cues.
  • The human brain uses Mental Orthographic Images (MOI) not only to write (“looks right”), but also to accelerate reading (“looks like”), and it can get very creative in associating these patterns with text.
  • The text uses a lot of short words, so even jumbling them does not produce a big obstacle.
  • Function words (the, be, and, you etc.) stay the same – mostly because they are short words. If the grammatical structure is preserved, there is a framework for meaning. This makes the context more predictable and words easier to read.
  • Many of words are not jumbled. Oh, you didn’t notice that? That’s because readers don’t consciously notice these short, high-frequency words when reading. (That’s why tools like Grammarly are so valuable for catching duplicates that might slip into your copy and that your brain won’t detect).
  • Exterior (first and last) letters of words play a larger role in getting the word right than do middle letters. That’s a fact confirmed in research.

The shortfalls

The email is “rigged” to make it easy to read. It also has much less to do with the subject of spelling than the email suggests.

  • Weak readers still have trouble reading it, and typically give up after a few words. Readers can manage abstraction only for words for which they have full automaticity.
  • Reading jumbled text takes substantially longer than reading conventional copy.

Try reading these sentences (translation at the end of blog), provided by Matt Davis, to understand that words get harder to decode the longer they are.

1-    Big ccunoil tax ineesacrs tihs yaer hvae seezueqd the inmcoes of mnay pneosenirs. [Big council tax increases this year have squeezed the incomes of many pensioners.] 

2-    A dootcr has aimttded the magltheuansr of a tageene ceacnr pintaet who deid aetfr a hatospil durg blendur. [A doctor has admitted the manslaughter of a teenage cancer patient who died after a hospital drug blunder.]

As another example, try reading this comment at bisso.com:

3-    Iltnsegnetiry I’m sdutynig tihs crsrootaivnel pnoheenmon at the Dptmnearet of Liuniigctss at Absytrytewh Uivsreitny and my exartrnairdoy doisiervecs waleoetderhlhy cndairotct the picsbeliud fdnngiis rrgdinaeg the rtlvaeie dfuictlify of ialtnstny ttalrisanng sentences. My rsceeerhars deplveeod a cnionevent ctnoiaptorn at hnasoa/tw.nartswdbvweos/utrtek:p./il taht dosnatterems that the hhpsteyios uuiqelny wrtaarns criieltidby if the aoussmpitn that the prreoecandpne of your wrods is not eendetxd is uueniqtolnabse. Aoilegpos for aidnoptg a cdocianorttry vwpiienot but, ttoheliacrley spkeaing, lgitehnneng the words can mnartafucue an iocnuurgons samenttet that is vlrtiauly isbpilechmoenrne.

[Interestingly I’m studying this controversial phenomenon at the Department of Linguistics at Aberystwyth University and my extraordinary discoveries wholeheartedly contradict the publicized findings regarding the relative difficulty of instantly translating sentences. My researchers developed a convenient contraption at http://www.aardvarkbusiness.net/tool that demonstrates that the hypothesis uniquely warrants credibility if the assumption that the preponderance of your words is not extended is unquestionable. Apologies for adopting a contradictory viewpoint but, theoretically speaking, lengthening the words can manufacture an incongruous statement that is virtually incomprehensible.

  • Richard Shillcock and colleagues, propose that when recognizing words, the brain splits each word in half, probably because the brain splits the information received by each eye between the two hemispheres when we read. when we read. So, keeping letters in the appropriate half of the word reduces the difficulty of reading jumbled text. (Shillcock, R., Ellison, T.M. & Monaghan, P. (2000). Eye-fixation behaviour, lexical storage and visual word recognition in a split processing model.Psychological Review 107, 824-851.)
  • In the viral example the letters often simply switch places with their immediate neighbor, like in “istlef“.
  • If the letters can form multiple words, the results can be totally confusing (just like with incorrect spelling). This example is taken from Matt Davis’ blog:

“The sprehas had ponits and patles”

This might come out as…

The sherpas had pitons and plates… The shapers had points and pleats… The seraphs had pintos and petals… The sphaers had pinots and palets… The sphears had potins and peltas. (palets: paleae (a part of a grass flower), peltas: shields, pinots: grapes, potins: copper alloys, sphaers, sphears: both old form of ‘spheres’)

  • The cna yuo raed tihs text is fairly predictable. Jumbled texts that convey unexpected information or associations will take the reader on a much more difficult path.
  • Maintaining the order of vowel sounds aids the brain substantially. If that additional cue is jumbled, the processing difficulty increases. This is why jumbled text works in most languages but is much harder in those that omit vowels from writing, like Hebrew or Arabic.

What it means

The fact that we can read misspellings doesn’t make them a good idea. Spelling conventions serve many purposes. It makes reading faster, clearer, and more effortless. It also identifies you as an educated individual who is able to pay attention to detail.

People tend to be surprised that they can read the jumbled text at decent speed. Why are they surprised? Did nobody ever tell them that the potential of their brain is nearly infinite?

When will our students learn in school that they possess a brain so powerful they can do most anything if only they invest the time and energy required to develop the skills?

About the Author

Rosevita Warda is president of LearnThat Foundation and manages www.LearnThatWord.org, a free online vocabulary and spelling coaching solution. Get 10% off premium features by entering “grammarly” into the “How did you hear about us” field.

Join Vocabulary Junction, LearnThat Foundation’s literacy campaign, by following updates on Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn.

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