cna u raed tihs? a brief thought on ancient orthography

Can You Read This Sentence?I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, 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 and in conxtet. 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!

(i geuss i cuold say the smae thnig abuot catipalziatoin, but we alerady konw tihs. the acnient grekes uesd all lwoer csae or all upepr csae ltetres, and neevr btohreed to mix tehm. lkiewsie, hberew and arbaic olny use a snigle csae, and tehy udenrsotod ecah ohter pereftcly. but i degrsis…)

The frist pragaarph* avobe is ipmortnat bceuase whtheer tehy siad so or not, ancinet scriebs aslo kenw taht wrods wtih exrta ‘plnee‘ vewols wree the smae as ohter wrods wihtuot tehm. Jsut beaucse a wrod cnotanis ‘plnee‘ vwoles in one plcae in a sneetnce and lakcs tehm in antheor deons’t ncessareliy maen taht the txet was the rselut of two difefrnet ahtours. It jsut maent taht orhtogrpahy and wittren vweols wree not as menaignufl in eraly srcibal sstyems, and it was olny witihn eltie srciabl cmomutniies taht othrgorphay was uesd to dstingiusih bteewen ‘prporely edcuaetd’ inviddiauls and ‘lseser’ educated idinviudals (and eevn tehn olny in wrtietn cnotxets, not vrebal oens). Of crouse, as letiracy bcaeme icnraesinlgy coommn thrugohuot a regoin, spllenig bcaeme an incraeisnlgy pravelnet idnicotar of an idnivdiaul’s itellingnece.

Add tihs to the fcat taht vwoles are amolst unencsseray for wrttein letirautre (voclaiaztoin, yes, but not for wrettin cmomnuciatoin), and we udernsatnd why presnolaiezd lecisne plteas rguelraly dorp volews frsit to fit big wrdos itno 6- and 7-ltteer sapces. The smae phenomenon is apparent in Tiwettr, wehre we are lemiitd to 140 chraactres. Hree aslo, lkie in acninet epagripihc isncpritoins and letirtaure wtriten on exnpesvie pypaurs, sacpe is vlaualbe, and so satdnard othrograhpy is abondaend in fvaor of an eocnmoy of csnonoants. If we rleazie taht a ferthur eocnmoy of chraecatrs can be ahceievd by eilimiantnig dpithogns, dirgahps, and silnet ltteres, we can udrenstnad the ircnaesignly chraactreisitc lnagague taht dsitignushies, imho, kewl twttr ppl frm all othrz, that alloz thm 2 b all lol @ us b/c we insist on spllng out gr8 wurds instd of jst makin em smallr. w00t!

Wihle tihs deos not awlyas hlod ture for prpoer nmaes lkie Steh Sandres, Chirs Rlolsotn, or Wlilaim Schneidiwend (the lttaer of whcih few can sepll crroetcly eevn tdoay ;-), the uncovenntioanl natrue of nmaes exlpians why so mnay proepr naems wree splleed in vraaint wyas (epsecillay with rgerad to veowls). The tutrh is, we can cumomuictae rtaher wlel witohut preopr spllenig, wichh porbbaly expialns why mispsillnegs and abbiveratoins wree mroe acectbaple in aceinnt witring. (and taht catipalziatoin is stlil unenecssray!)

-rboret craglil


*Note: The first paragraph made its way around the internet beginning in 2003. The urban legend portion of this paragraph is that ‘research at Cambridge’ produced the study. This has not conclusively been determined. Read more at Snopes.com here.

4 Responses

  1. wlel siad, slrolacy gnaemteln!

    Tmhrua Msroiorn

  2. Oops, Thurma, I think you proved the point! You obviously meant to write “slrholacy”, not “slrolacy”… Oh dear, I’m even a spelling/grammar nazi in jset. Sorry, I can’t help myself – it’s a burden, not a gift! ^_^

  3. Actually, Bob, Thurma’s letter order creates an interesting (for me, anyway) point. If the mixed-up letters accidentally form valid “sub-words” (?technical term?) unrelated to the actual word, then it kinda makes it difficult to ‘tear your mind away’ from the original word you’re trying to figure out.

    At least, for me it does. But then, I read unbelievably quickly (800+ words per minute), so maybe I’m more sensitive to patterns or something.

    I wonder if people who are poor readers – or maybe even dyslexics – would find it easier or more difficult to read mxeid-up wrods? I’m sure Steve Pinker would know.

    Anyway…thanks so much for the dsreioivn!

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