I was introduced to a fascinating phenomenon in 2002. Someone had pinned a note on the staff notice-board. My first thought on reading it was taht the tpysit had faleid to use the slelpckehcer. But the wolhe dumconet was wtirten lkie tihs.
It went on to explain that most people could read and make sense of writing, despite jemubld ltertes in wrdos. As long as the frsit and lsat letter of each word did not sfiht their position, trehe was litlte preblom.
Text of this sort was not new to me. I was familiar with the writing of dyslexic students who were adept at constructing words, phrases and sentences like those shown here.
Jumbled-letter word messages caused a swell of activity in emails and on blogs at that time. Recognition was facile for jumbled-words that were correctly positioned in text. More so than the cognitive gymnastics needed to make sense of text where the positions of correctly spelt words were jumbled in the same sentence.
The phrase, ‘too sense to muddled any make’, may demonstrate this.
Speculation arose as to why most readers found it easy to make sense of jumbled-word texts. There then followed a flurry of research as academics looked into the psychology of the phenomenon. The term ‘jumbled-word effect’ was introduced.
One of the initial proposals was that the first and last letters were important to the recognition of words. Soon it was revealed that the first and last letters were not especially the ones used when recognising and reading jumbled-words in text. Further to this, particular words with their interior letters muddled in special ways were identified as being difficult to decipher.
When carefully disarranged words are chosen it is possible to construct sentences that are arduous to understand, as in the example:
A dootcr aimttded magltheuansr of a tageene ceacnr pintaet who deid aetfr a hatospil durg blendur.
More recent postings on blogs have perpetuated the ongoing debate about the phenomenon.
Interest in the psychology of reading was stimulated by these curious observations, so much so that programs were created to jumble the interiors of words in texts, expressly for the purpose of creating material for use in further research. As well, investigations were conducted on possible occurrences of the phenomenon in other written languages.
Some findings are posted by Matt David of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. It seems that vowels, and their juxtaposition to consonants within the jumble, have some bearing on the readability of words. Compared to other languages, significantly fewer vowels than consonants are involved in the makeup of words in the Hebrew language.
Apparently Hebrew writing is rendered quite unreadable when the interior letters of its words are scrambled. This suggests that the presence of vowels and their position in the jumble of letters may indeed have some role in affecting ease of recognition of jumbled-words.
Ordered letter pairs
At the University of Maryland, Jonathan Grainger and Carol Whitney drew on the work of earlier researchers. They proposed that recognition of jumbled-words was sustained by what they referred to as ‘ordered letter pairs’ or ‘open bigrams’. The mind seems to latch on to particular letter combinations when recognising a jumbled-word.
A less academic perspective by The Escapist claims that the context of a word in text is more likely to assist its recognition than does the arrangement of the letters that make it up.
This is a plausible idea if the sentence or phrase, rather than the single word, is considered as the unit of meaning. How often has a typo, where letters of a word are accidentally jumbled, escaped the eye of even the most scrupulous proof reader, by virtue of the meaning of the misspelt word being subsumed in the rest of the text?
Perhaps the mind uses a range of indicators in attempting to interpret meaning from jumbled-words in texts.