Science for Word Geeks
Evidence from the last 20 years of work in cognitive psychology indicates that we use the letters within a word to recognize a word. Many typographers and other text enthusiasts I’ve met insist that words are recognized by the outline made around the word shape. Some have used the term bouma as a synonym for word shape, though I was unfamiliar with the term. The term bouma appears in Paul Saenger’s 1997 book Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading. There I learned to my chagrin that we recognize words from their word shape and that “Modern psychologists call this image the ‘Bouma shape.'” … The goal of this paper is to review the history of why psychologists moved from a word shape model of word recognition to a letter recognition model, and to help others to come to the same conclusion.