At lunch today someone brought up a meme that I had heard of before, but I began to wonder about its validity. The general idea is that people can read words with jumbled letters as long as the first and last letter are in the correct order. The following paragraph is used as an example.
Arocdnicg to rsceearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm. Tihs is buseace the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
It seems cool at first and I still believe it shows the power of our minds, but it’s not entirely on the up-and-up. I found a response to the e-mail from a linguist who works at Cambridge University who points out that no such study took place in Cambridge. This is what he had to say about it.
“I work at Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, in Cambridge, UK, a Medical Research Council unit that includes a large group investigating how the brain processes language. If there’s a new piece of research on reading that’s been conducted in Cambridge, I thought I should have heard of it before…
I’ve written this page, to try to explain the science behind this meme. There are elements of truth in this, but also some things which scientists studying the psychology of language (psycholinguists) know to be incorrect. I’m going to break down the meme, one line at a time to illustrate these points, pointing out what I think is the relevant research on the role of letter order on reading. Again, this is only my view of the current state of reading research, as it relates to this meme. If you think I’ve missed something important, let me know.”
In the end, I think it’s safe to say that not all sentences would be so easy to read, so it’s generous to say our minds only need the first and last letter, but in many cases it is surprising what our mind can make out of a jumble of letters.
bobkalsey’s response sums up my feelings on the subject.
He wrote, “I know it wasn’t mean to be serious…and I don’t mean to sound like a fuddy-duddy. It is an amusing post. But…I guess I [am] a fuddy-duddy — how else [would you] explain my frequent skepticism and…obsession to get the facts right[?]”