by guitchus(2003-09-22 19:34:12)
So we have (what we could henceforth call) the "msesgae":
"Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe".
Even if it’s funny, this "msesgae" is an improper and excessive generalization, which conveys an extremely reductive vision. Moreover, whereas it should only remain what it is, i.e. a simple fantasist and entertaining text, it is taking worrying forms (we see it in mails, weblogs, chat-rooms where participants, absolutely amazed and amused, are venerating this "sensational discovery" and friends from everywhere (also excited) are forwarding it in different languages (apparently, this “hoaxmeme” (hoax + meme) is floating all over the web).
Let’s try to encircle the topic (not by haughty pedantry but just by anticonformism and anti-“simplistism”). If you were looking for a serious explanation of it, here is an “anti-hoaxmeme”:
Reading is a complex activity that involves many aspects of knowledge, which are of various natures and various complexities (this is due besides to the fact that “writing” is complex). It's an activity, which implies cognitive processes but also, simultaneously, perceptive processes: reading, it's to perceive and to identify words.
Many linguists worked on the description of the mechanisms’ evolution of the words’ identification and there are now many developmental models of reading. The principal models comprise three way of reading, which correspond actually to three chronological stages of acquisition (for this presentation, let's start with the second one):
- the alphabetical reading (second stage): the reader connects the oral examination with the writing (in other words, he learns how to make correspondence between letters and sounds (ex: the sound [k]can be written with 'c' (cot), 'k' (kiss) or 'ch' (chord)). At this stage of phonological mediation, there is a code training; the learner enriches its phonological knowledge and transfers it to new words (it’s a form of self-training). This stage is called an "indirect way" because the reader reads the words through a decoding process.
- the orthographical reading (third stage): the words are analyzed in orthographical units (orthography indicates here the sequence of letters forming the word). There is no phonological conversion; the words are read and recognized directly in reference to a memorized orthographical lexicon. This stage replaces gradually (but not entirely) the alphabetical one. The reader does not need to decipher anymore: he recognizes the words through a "direct way".
- the logographic reading (which is actually the FIRST stage in the reading training): at this stage, the reader uses various kinds of clues to 'read' the words, inter alia, those provided by the extralinguistic environment. The letters’ order and the phonological factors are not taken in account, but the visual clues are. There can be at this stage an instantaneous recognition of familiar words (or somehow ‘learned by heart’), and the riddles made on the basis of projecting visual clues allow the constitution of a first total vocabulary. The visual clues can simply be the length of the word or its "silhouette" (outline) or even just one letter. The classic example to illustrate this stage is the word: "Coca-Cola”, of which logo is easily identified by almost all children of 5-6 years old. If we change only one letter of the word: “Coca-Coca”, children will not notice the difference from the original word (adults neither sometimes, as some experiments proved it).
The most perspicacious of you may have already understood: what occurs actually when we read the "msesgae", it is that we, literate readers to whom reading and writing have been taught, use our competences, acquired and automated thanks to years of reading experience. In other words, we have developed "HABITS" of reading.
The "msesgae" experiment could let us think that we get back to a logographic reading, in which access to significance is carried out directly via the pictorial semantic system (with words treated like images-logos), but this is not completely true.
Actually, we continue to use the orthographical reading system (in which access to significance is carried out via the verbal semantic system). If we look at the "msesgae ? more closely, we can notice that 34 of its 68 words (short and common by the way), are correctly spelled (50%, half of the text, and most of them are "grammatical words"). Added to a simple and common syntax (journalistic style of the “forma brevis”) and our capacity of anticipation and auto-reflex correction of more or less experienced reader (the system used is close to the "typing error" one, and anyway, teachers manage quite well to read our essays stuffed with spelling mistakes. In other words, you don’t have to be a Professor of literature to spot "what" in " waht "!!!), it gives many visual clues!!! (Moreover, there is a syllabic facilitation phenomenon, but I skip the details).
The proposition, which is conveyed through the ?msesgae?, is not completely false but it is very reductive, and completely incorrect when it affirms that only the place of the first and the last letter of the words do matter. Actually, it deals more with their "silhouette" (from which our (almost standard) system of abbreviations rises (another facilitating clue)). If we can read the "msesgae" without any problem, it is because we are good readers reading a text easily accessible in spite of its orthographic and spelling mistakes.
To prove it, if I give you the correctly spelled words "acetoxybutynylbithiophene deacetylase" or "carboxymethylenebutenolidase", dear expert readers, you will resort to an alphabetical analysis (second stage) and will use a grapho-phonological decoding for these unknown words (I suppose, this experiment may not always work if you are chemist, druggist or doctor... if it’s the case, sorry for this affront :-).
Another counterexample: if you read AT THE FIRST GO the following sentence as quickly and fluently as you did with the "msesgae", all my theoric explanation goes down the drain (or you are an innate champion of anagrams!):
“Nreuuoms pmeeononnhs peossss uiapocmltecnd etaaoilxnpn; nwttdtsniinoahg, the pdseuo-snfiiiectc spssliiimtm is not snfiiiectc and eieecndvs are oetfn mdanleiisg”*.
Guillaume Fon Sing,
* “Numerous phenomenons possess uncomplicated explanation; notwithstanding, the pseudo-scientific simplistism is not scientific and evidences are often misleading”.
Please forward it, …it can teach sb a thing or two.
by matsunaga(2003-09-23 03:42:23)
thank you for comment, guitchus!
this is an adequate description, I think.
I've translate it in Japanese and post here (23 Sep.).