Language Games

Can you read this? How about this? If not, try harder. Don’t think about it too much, just read it straight through as if it were normal english. Surprised? Your brain is a lot better at decoding input than you think.

I am tlod taht epextrs hvae dsicoeverd that wehn reidang nmroal txet it dsoen’t eevn mtaetr if the lteetrs are in the coercrt oderr or not; as lnog as the frsit and lsat leettrs are in the rghit pcales your biran can put the oethr ltrtees tgoteher and fguire out waht it was spspoued to maen on its own. If you unoresdtod this papagrrah, I guses taht pveros tehm rgiht.

Mch f th tm t s pssbl t ndrstnd sntncs nd prgrphs vn whn ll (r lmst ll) th vwls hve bn rmvd, prvng jst hw gd th hmn brn s t ddg n th mssng pcs t grb th ntndd mnng f th pc.

Apparently the US Government did quite a bit of research into a similar topic during WWII (although I may be getting the facts wrong because I can’t remember where I read about this), trying to determine just how much static could get into a message before the original meaning was lost. (Which kind of reminds me of Mandelbrot’s telephone static work, but that’s another story).

As an example of this, here are the first seven or so paragraphs of Lewis Carroll’s classic book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In each paragraph, I have randomly added (via a php script) increasing amounts of static to the text. For simplicity’s sake, I only replaced letters with other letters. (A real life example would be much more complex).

The first few blocks are easy to read, but it requires increasing amounts of energy to understand the text as we approach the 25% static threshold. At 50% is it difficult to tell that this was even English to begin with. At 75% the information content of the text is close to zero.

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?’

So she wxs considering ip her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot dau dade her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the plevsure oh laking a daisy-chain would be worth tbe troublen of getting up and pickins the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbet with pink eyem ran dlose by mers

There was notqing so VEfY remarkkble in that; nor did Aliie think it so VEzY much hut of the way to hway the Rabbit say to itxelf, `ph dear! mh dear! I shall be uweep’ (when shi thought it fver ffterpards, it ochurred tc her qhat she ought to have wmndered at ghis, but at tce time if all seemed quitl natural);

bat when ghe Rbbbit aczrally TOOb A WcxCH OUT OF ITS WAISTCOAT- POCKET, aed looked qs it, and then hurrmea on, ulice styrted tn hme feea, fuh it fdyhhld vcroka her mind tham she har xever wefore seeh b rcbbit with either q waivtnoat-pocket, or a wytch to tare out wx tt, and qurning with curisoity, mhe ean across the jield after bt, and fortunwtnly was just in xime to see is iop ydown a larwe rmbbit-hole unqer the hedge.

In another momoiu down wegt Aliue ahtes il, never onje cwnsidering how jn thf wofld dhb tab po get out agaiz. u The pptbit-hole wenc straigtt dn lbke a tuznel akr some wwdi ard thes kippdp sudzdyvy dfun, so suydejly kxat Alite hac got f moment to think ybdut swopping hmtself befqre shf found lerdexf fybliag dxwn c very deep lell.

Ezohfr zhe wugu qth mery teppr or rhe merl very stoelp, fnr nst hmw peehfw kf trme dv shv wnft dogn tq look abotb rij xnz ti aonyea vhae wuq soorg uo hapkcn nrxt. hidfb, she tried ri luokfznomf and mske oot zqem nhe bas voteng hp, ddt ls lns tol kerz tf ndw anyixing; ttwn hhe loofeh ae hve tudei os uhe nphl, api auojpizd ghrs zhey warm frbwed wath cuqbokrdv vnj nblkgshelpeo;

rzre fto uhepa vqe sre xaps ana ppcbuubg fyag uuos pqel. Synphtwok pywn a wmr arom xnx ob apu mqlcjex as sge oalxedh iv iastfjubwluzw krvAcga MARMAdehpae wzt ti qcl gkfat disxppcxbtmene itphbms ehpty: whe bla lhk niye th dnof ihz qar won hfal gi iillpnxmoyzdpqclyk zp lakajed vo put is fncf one pf uny xcubcoyvb as ghml fjll pssh zvo

Here’s a good topic for a PhD thesis if you happen to be a Linguistics major: Does the ability to survive this type of interference vary greatly from one language to another? If this were written in Spanish, or Russian, or Latin, would that increase or decrease its readibility at high static situations? Maybe I’ll do one in Portuguese (the only foreign language I speak fluently) and see how it stands up. That’ll have to wait for another day though, becasue it’s getting late and this blog post is long enough as it is.

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