Wednesday, July 20, 2005

WOEXP: 119 - Fixation versus word recognition

WOEXP: 119 - Fixation versus word recognition

which lead to The Science of Word Recognition

Evidence from the last 20 years of work in cognitive psychology indicate that we use the letters within a word to recognize a word. Many typographers and other text enthusiasts I’ve met insist that words are recognized by the outline made around the word shape. Some have used the term bouma as a synonym for word shape, though I was unfamiliar with the term. The term bouma appears in Paul Saenger’s 1997 book Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading. There I learned to my chagrin that we recognize words from their word shape and that “Modern psychologists call this image the ‘Bouma shape.’”

This paper is written from the perspective of a reading psychologist. The data from dozens of experiments all come from peer reviewed journals where the experiments are well specified so that anyone could reproduce the experiment and expect to achieve the same result. This paper was originally presented as a talk at the ATypI conference in Vancouver in September, 2003.

The goal of this paper is to review the history of why psychologists moved from a word shape model of word recognition to a letter recognition model, and to help others to come to the same conclusion. This paper will cover many topics in relatively few pages. Along the way I will present experiments and models that I couldn’t hope to cover completely without boring the reader. If you want more details on an experiment, all of the references are at the end of the paper as well as suggested readings for those interested in more information on some topics. Most papers are widely available at academic libraries.

I will start by describing three major categories of word recognition models: the word shape model, and serial and parallel models of letter recognition. continues The Science of Word Recognition

Average saccade length and fixation times vary by language. The data presented here are for American English readers. While the values vary by language, it is remarkable that reading cognitive processes change so little from language to language.


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