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Biology 202, Spring 2005
Second Web Papers
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Deos Selplnig Ralely Mtetar? (Does Spelling Really Matter?)

Amy Venditta

Correct spelling of words is emphasized at an early age and is something with which even highly-educated adults struggle. Supposedly correct spelling is not only necessary for others to understand the written words, but also for you and your own brain to determine what the word is, what it means, and how it sounds. When children learn to read, they are told to sound out each letter as it comes. Therefore, they are told to pay careful attention to the order of the letters and the sound each makes. The brain then recognizes each letter and corresponding sound to create a word. Why is it tehn taht you are slitl albe to raed tihs sntenece, ditsepe the fcat taht the wodrs are not sleelpd crercloty. Ecah wrod cteniuons to csnsoit of its oinargil leetrts, wtih the frsit and the lsat rnemiinag cstannot, and the mdldie lrttees in a roadnm jmeblud oedrr. This inspires the question of whether the brain takes each letter on its own, or recognizes the word as a whole (specific letters in no specific order). (1)

A more interesting question to me that came from this phenomenon is related to the concept of reality. It seems rather obvious that at times, the physical reality is different than what we perceive it as. The physics of color, for example, promotes many examples of the difference between actual reality and our perceived reality. For example, what color do you think results when you mix red and green? My intuition, resulting from a background slightly stronger in art than theatre, tells me that red and green mixed together result in brown. This is true for paint; however, red and green light mixed together makes yellow light. An interesting fact about this color yellow that we see when red and green light is mixed is that it does not have a pure wavelength. (2)

To expand, the color spectrum consists of red, orange, yellow, green, indigo, blue, and violet. Each of these colors has a specific pure wavelength and frequency associated with it. The color magenta, however, does not have a pure wavelength associated with it. This means that the color magenta is not real according to physics, meaning that our brain has made it up. The yellow that we see when we mix red and green light is another color that our brain has made up. Our brain and color receptors are not able to see the wavelengths of red and green at the same time because this is too complicated, so our brain makes up a color similar to yellow that is associated with the jumbled wavelengths of red and green. The reality of red and green light mixed is the wavelengths and frequencies of red and green mixed together. Our perceived reality is the color yellow. (3)

To relate this to our previous conversation concerning spelling, the rleatiy of the wrdos in tihs scnetnee is taht tehy are sellepd itcronerlcy and are meerly jebumld lretets. Our prieeecvd ritaely is a seetnnce taht mkaes ssnee. It seems that in terms of the previous sentences, 'mind of matter' has prevailed. Just as the nervous system is unable to handle all of the wavelengths and frequencies of red and green at the same time, it may also be unable to handle all the jumbled letters at the same time. In the color situation, your brain makes up for you to see the color yellow (4) , while in the word situation, your brain makes up that it can read all of those words. Maybe your brain recognizes the letters and assumes that these letters make up a known word.

It is harder for your brain to 'read' these words when they are words that you do not know, longer words, or words with repeating letters. (1) This may be because your brain tries to recognize a specific word that it knows has the same letters. For example, what word is this?: vdtitnea. Although you may not know, I can recognize it immediately as my last name: venditta.

It is interesting that in order for these jumbled words to be easily read, the first and last letters must be fixed. Ti si irycludsioul ffctildui ot adre a netcseen ni wchih eht isrtf nda tsla etlters era ont fdxei. (It is ridiculously difficult to read a sentence in which the first and last letters are not fixed.) This may be due to the fact that your brain is able to recognize more than one specific word that is similar to the jumble of words. (5)

For example, try and determine this jumbled word: ngdrea. Need a hint? Think about dirt and flowers. The jumbled word must be 'garden'! Wait, now think about the word caution. The jumble word must be 'danger'! This jumbled word, ngdrea, is both 'garden' and 'danger'. Notice how easy it is to read the same word jumbled differently. Dnegar obviously reads 'danger', and grdaen obviously represents the word 'garden'.

It has been known since 1861 that most language and reading skills originate in the left brain. (6) The occipital cortex of the brain is specifically used for processing visual information, such as distinguishing the words, letters, and characteristics of letters. (7) The frontal lobe is responsible for determining the meanings of the words and relating them to what you already know. (8)

Eevn wehn rnaeidg tsehe jlmebud wrdos, yuor biarn is sitll wrikong the smae way it wulod wtih nmraol wdros, jsut a ltilte hdaerr. So basically, our brains are extremely independent, in the sense that they only need small hints in order to figure things out. More specifically, our brains are able to collect information in a multitude of ways. For example, our brains can recognize a word and its meaning even if the letters within the word are jumbled. Like a detective, our brains take many aspects of the word into account and formulate an educated guess as to what the word may be. In thsee cseas, it is anzaimg how sarmt our bainrs rlaely are, and how lttile seilpnlg rlaely mettras.


1) "Read the Mixed-up Words", a Physics forum area.

2) Wikipedia, discussion on physics of color.

3) Wikipedia, discussion on the reproduction of color.

4) Wikipedia, discussion on color.

5) "Language and Reading in the Brain", Martha S. Burns, Ph.D

6) "Oh Say Can You Say", The Brain and Language, Neuroscience for kids.

7) "The Brain and Reading", Sebastian Wren, Ph.D

8) "Understanding the Brain and Reading"

Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association Online, discussion on reading problems and traumatic brain injury.

"Words in the Brain; Reading program spurs neural rewrite in kids", Bruce Bower

"Reading in the Brain", discussion of a person who is only able to read number words.

Jumble your own words!

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