Monday 23 November 2009

Waht is Gestalt?

I must have mentioned Gestalt in a posting because I had an email today asking me what it meant. In German it means: form, but it also has a connotation of wholeness and completeness. Take for example when we look at a table: we don't need to count the number of legs and the angles and planes of wood (or whatever the table is made of) we grasp it quickly as a whole and confidently label it 'table'. The idea of Gestalt is the foundation of many design principles - we are comfortable if, without a long analysis, we can grasp wholeness or completedness in a design. If, however, that completeness is not quite there, we feel jarred or shocked without necessarily understanding why. As any proof-reader knows, Gestalt is the bane of one's life! Here is a little Gestalt test for you, which you may like to try on your friends around the party table this week.

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

(If there are any readers who do not have English as their first language it would be an interesting experiment to hear if you can make sense of it also.)


  1. Yes I confirm. I am French, and I could easily read this text.
    This is very interesting, as the "global" method of learning to read is not really effective in France. We'd rather learn "b-a ba" method. Don't know if you experiment the same problem in English...

  2. Thank you very much for your response - this is so interesting - I must see if I can do the same in French. It just shows how wrong we can be with assumptions, because I would have assumed it to be gobbly-gook for non-English readers.

  3. This is fascinating. I was not familiar with the "b-a ba" method, so went looking for it on the internet. (what did we do before the internet?) I found this site:
    which explains it well, and makes me realize that this is a very different way to teach, that I was somewhat familiar with (without knowing what it was called - it's "Blend Phonics"). I've heard people tell children who are reading haltingly to "sound it out", but it didn't really register with me.

    All that said, something in the text on that site made me wonder about the gestalt test - "net is not the same as ten, pat is not the same tap" - which could confuse someone reading the gestalt test, except if they are getting the full context which helps to guess the right word. Which means that we are all guessing when we read that paragraph, which would put the context a little further from our grasp, I would have thought. Interesting... this is something I've never thought of before, though the gestalt problem is one that has certainly plagued me as a proofreader!

  4. Yes, I also could understand this text :), and I guess it's the same in most languages, even in such as Lithuanian, there you have different endings depending on the casus, time, number, etc...

  5. As a dyslexic, I found it very easy to read. In fact, initially, I could not see anything different in it and I had to have another look!

  6. Yes I confirm. I am dutch-speaking from Belgium, and I could easily read this text.

    In Belgium circulates that tekst in dutch on the internet , ofcors that was even eassier to read.
    Becky and Julie thanks for the link that explains it,

  7. I wonder if we could set up a test text with pat and tap and ten and net......and maybe someone in France could set a similar test for those of us with French as a second language?
    Annie's comments have just blown me away!

  8. Now your last comment I had to re-read three times before I understood what you had written! How we perceive words and then understand their meaning is a fascinating study.

  9. This is interesting... When i read english (i am dutch) i have to concentrate and almost everything i read i have to do a second time. But this text i can read and understand in one time.

  10. Somebody wake me up - I have just seen the error in my thinking - under the rules where the first and last letter stay the same then tap could never come at's all this HTML that is getting to me - I was even dreaming in HTML last night...!
    Tnahk you Anine for tihs wnedroufl isgnht - atuclaly tihs is esaeir for me to wirte!

  11. Of course! How silly of me. I completely forgot the part stating the first and last letter must remain in place!

    And I certainly know what you mean about the HTML - I find it very difficult to work with, and actually don't understand why there isn't an easier way, other than nobody wants to spend the time on it, I guess.

    This has been so interesting...