Reading and Decoding

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Perhaps you've seen the f1gur471v3ly 5p34k1ng passage? If not, I'll reproduce most of it here. (I'll gladly provide a link to the original author, but have been unable to find any kind of reference.)

7H15 M3554G3
53RV35 7O PR0V3
D0 4M4Z1NG 7H1NG5!
1MPR3551V3 7H1NG5!
1N 7H3 B3G1NN1NG
17 WA5 H4RD BU7
N0W, 0N 7H15 LIN3,
R34D1NG 4U70M471C4LLY
W17H0U7 3V3N
7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17

This reminded me of the similar aoccdrnig to rscheearch text. And as someone who struggled for years with the mechanics of reading -- finally becoming confident sometime after college -- these paragraphs fascinate me. What's going on?

First, I believe much of 1337 speak boils down font recognition. Reading becomes easier the more familiar you become with translating 1s to ls and 3s to Es. There are plenty of fonts that confuse me because the Js and Ts are almost identical. Old English scripts are terrible!

Second, context is key. Much like trying to decipher my handwriting five minutes after scribbling something down, my notes are only legible by considering the content around each word blob. In fact, in college, I created my own shorthand code for notes because it was easier for me to read than my chicken scratch. We use the words we're reading to figure out the meaning of a passage. This is how we grow our vocabulary naturally by reading rather than memorizing a dictionary.


Third, we predict what's coming next in a sentence. I noticed this just yesterday in church when the pastor read a familiar passage, completely reordering certain words. I frequently do the same thing. This is also one reason why it is so difficult to proofread (especially something you've written). You know what the text is supposed to say, so that's what you read.

These skills enable us to read incredibly quickly, and accurately comprehend the meaning. What blows my mind are the people -- like my mom -- who can read sentences or paragraphs with the ease at which I read words.

There has actually been a ton of research into how we comprehend the words on a page. I took a few minutes to skim through The Science of Word Recognition. ...skimming... yet another incredible feat.

What most impresses you about reading?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

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