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Some typographers believe that, when reading, people can recognize words by deciphering boumas, not just individual letters. The claim is that this is a natural strategy for increasing reading efficiency. However, considerable study and experimentation by cognitive psychologists has led to their general acceptance of a different, and largely contradictory, theory: parallel letterwise recognition.
The term bouma is a reduction of "Bouma-shape", which was probably first used in Paul Saenger's 1997 book "Space between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading", although Saenger himself attributes it to Insup & Maurice Martin Taylor. Its origin is in reference to hypotheses by a prominent vision researcher, H. Bouma, who studied the shapes and confusability of letters and letter strings.
Bouma, H. (1971). Visual Recognition of Isolated Lower-Case Letters. Vision Research, 11, 459-474.
- Article on word recognition from Microsoft
- Issue #13 of TYPO magazine devoted to readability
- Data from an experiment by H. Bouma
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