Jumbled words more recognizable in English than Hebrew

HU professor finds differences in the problems of dyslexic children in reading English and Hebrew.

jumbled words 88 (photo credit: )
jumbled words 88
(photo credit: )
If your English typing skills are below par, and you tend to write "unirevsity," "frist," "improtant" or "odrer" instead of university, first, important or order - most people will understand what you meant without batting an eyelash, on condition that the first and last letters are in place. But if you jumble letters in Hebrew, you probably won't be understood. This was discovered by Hebrew University Prof. Ram Frost and doctoral student Hadas Velen, who wanted to know whether the jumbling phenomenon in English - known as the "Cambridge University effect" and discovered in 2003 - was relevant to Hebrew. Their findings were relevant to research into dyslexia, in which there are differences in the problems of dyslexic children in reading English and Hebrew. The Cambridge University effect (named for the place where it was discovered) was previously tested on Indo-European languages such as French, Spanish and English. To test it on Israelis, the HU team took 28 student volunteers who speak Hebrew and English equally well. They were asked to read 20 sentences in the two tongues, each with seven to 13 words, using a special technique of split-second consecutive presentation (each word for a 200,000th of a second) of one word after another. In half of the sentences, a total of 60 "target words" appeared properly spelled, while in the other half, they were jumbled. After being asked to read them, the subjects were asked if they had found any misspelled target words. The researchers fond that 81 percent managed to read all the correct sentences in Hebrew, while just 62% did so when the sentences had jumbled target words. In English, however, there was a gap of only 2 percentage points (86% vs. 84%) in reading sentences with the correct form and the jumbled form. The gap between Hebrew and English was even greater when the subjects were asked solely about the target words. While they correctly read 84% of the non-jumbled words in Hebrew, they were able to recognize only 59% of the jumbled target words in this language. When reading the English sentences, 82% were able to read the properly spelled target words, and 81% identified the misspelled ones. Their findings coincided with the concept called "jumbled word blindness" involving the reading of words of Indo-European origin. But with Hebrew, the difficulty of reading jumbled words does not result from language difficulties - because the subjects were equally fluent in both languages. The difference, the researchers, hypothesized, results from different language structure. "While in English, words are identified according to all the letters of which they are formed, in Hebrew, one identifies words according to their [grammatical] roots. Thus any change in the order of letters disrupts the process of reading. It seems, said Frost, "that the Cambridge University effect is different from the Hebrew University effect."