Creuset of Ideas
» Seeing words


Seeing words

2007-03-7 @ 2:42

Our culture has a special relationship to the written word; we tend to think of written language as pretty natural. But out the thousands of languages spoken around the world, many, if not most, are not written.

When we stop to think about it, the written word is not that natural. Consider what happens, in our brain, when we read:

  • Our eyes scan the lines, pausing for 250 milliseconds on each group of letters, before moving on the next. During that time, we pick up the first and last letter, and, mixed up, the middle ones. This is fed as nerve impulses to our occipital lobe (back of the head).
  • The information gathered is transmitted from the occipital lobe to the left temporal lobe for processing: transforming the little images into words.

Consider then what happens when we listen: the sound strike either ear, to be translated into nerve impulse that stay in the same region for processing (or simply cross over the other side of the brain, which is a natural path).

This may explain why silent reading is a fairly recent development (last millennium, if I’m not mistaken) and why children learn to read aloud. The lines are transformed into real sound, for easier processing. Seen from outside, this may seem more complicated, but for our brain, it’s easier.

What do you think?