fun with spelling

February 28th, 2009

I was forwarded this on Facebook, and rather forward it on to a few others, I thought I’d put it out there for everybody:

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too. Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 56 plepoe out of 100 can.

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

Yes, I can read it, but I don’t find that in anyway amazing or surprising, and I certainly do not think my ability to read it implies that there might be anything strange about my mind- especially considering “only” 56 out of 100 people can read it- hello, people! Not even my maths is that bad! 56% is a majority! But I do find myself wondering where, precisely, this came from and what research at Cambridge University it refers to.

So why can I read it? Just off the top of my head, I can think of a few possible answers:

  1. Word games. Kids are given word games as part of their education- both formal and informal- and so learn to do things like find words in a wordsearch or unscramble letters to spell the word correctly. Some of us continue playing word games like crosswords into adulthood. Hey, crosswords are fun and good exercise for the brain.
  2. Work. A large part of my job involves interpreting crazy concoctions of letters and strange jumbles of words to show students how they should’ve written things.
  3. This sentence: “Tih! s is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. ” And that makes perfect sense when you think of the Chinese language. The question is why does the brain function that way? Is it natural, or a result of our education?

But I don’t see anything to be proud of in being one of “only” 56% of people who can read that. First up, that’s a majority. A slim majority, but a majority nevertheless. Secondly, 56% of what people? Clearly that is not 56% of the total global population. The majority of people in this world do not read English and therefore have no hope of being able to read that text. 56% of people who do read English? Perhaps, and I just showed it to lzh who read it to me easily. 56% of literate native English speakers? Plausible, I guess. And how did they come up with that number?

Oh well, it’s good for a little fun, I suppose.

10 Responses to “fun with spelling”

  1. Josh Says:

    I read somewhere that as long as the first and last letters are correct, sentences with jumbled words numbering 6-7 letters or less are comprehensible to most all English readers. No mention of 56% or anything, just thought it was worth a note.

  2. John Says:

    This was going around a couple of years ago or so.

    Oh well, it’s good for a little fun, I suppose.

    I agree.

  3. Matt Schiavenza Says:

    Isn’t 56% a little low? Shouldn’t the number be roughly identical to the literacy rate? I mean, are there any people who can read normally but can’t read jumbled words? They’re not even anagrams.

  4. wangbo Says:

    Yep, that 56% number is weird. I just don’t understand how they could’ve come up with that or what it’s supposed to mean.

  5. Sue Says:

    I’m Chinese living in UK for many years. I can read it no prob. So your point 1 & 2 don’t apply to me. In fact I’m not good at word game at all. So has to be point 3. :-)

    I wonder about people with dyslexia. I heard that when they read, letters just scrambled. But they are better at reading Chinese. not too sure true or not.

    I used to think this might be because for a Chinese word, the order of character doesn’t matter as much as English. Put them in wrong order may not be right, but can still be understood. Looks like the order of letters in a word is not as important in English either. Now think about it, maybe the consonants in am English word are more important. A vowel is wrong or missing, one can still guess what the word is.

  6. wangbo Says:

    Thanks Sue, that’s an interesting perspective.

    It has already been shown that people see what they want to see, but usually that’s a psychological phenomenon. Perhaps it also works with written language? The brain takes a block of text and automatically corrects any ‘mistakes’? That would certainly explain why it’s so hard to proofread one’s own writing.

    As for dyslexics, I also wonder. My dad, for example, is very intelligent, but he just doesn’t do book learning. Give him drumsticks or just about any brass instrument, and he’ll play your music. Give him a car and his tools, and he’ll have it up and running in no time. I have watched him at work in both music and cars, and his work is a thing of beauty. Show him a problem in a high school physics textbook (I have done this before), and he’ll tell you the correct answer, but he can’t explain why, at least, not with the mathematical formulae your physics teacher wants to see. I can’t say how he’d do in Chinese, but I suspect he’d learn it quicker and easier than most people of a similar background.

  7. light487 Says:

    Yeh I also saw this viral-email thing going around a couple of years ago and while I wasn’t literally blown away by it or hysterically excited, it is still amazing nevertheless.

    I love this kind of thing mainly because it shows another, often overlooked, layer to the brain. I guess it is similar to the way the brain tries to make sense of random imagery or sound, and also in the same vein of optical illusions and the like.

    From what I remember of the article there was no mention of a 56 percentile.. Though I’m pretty sure they said it was ‘most people’. I am guessing the 56% bit was added by the author of the viral-email, rather than the study, as way to ‘sell’ the story to the reader.. To make them want to read further etc

  8. wangbo Says:

    Hmm… I hadn’t thought of that aspect of how the brain functions. Certainly makes a bit of sense.

  9. Peony Says:

    The only thing kind of scary for me was that I found it EASIER to read (well to quickly scan it at least)… I wonder why that would be…?

  10. wangbo Says:

    Peony, I’m guessing the more linguistic training and experience one has, the easier it is to read that.