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In typography, a bouma (/ˈbmə/ BOH-mə) is the shape of a cluster of letters, often a whole word. It 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 the prominent vision researcher Herman Bouma, who studied the shapes and confusability of letters and letter strings.[1]

Some typographers believe that, when reading, people can recognize words by deciphering boumas, not just individual letters, or that the shape of the word is related to readability and/or legibility. The claim is that this is a natural strategy for increasing reading efficiency. However, considerable study and experimentation by cognitive psychologists led to their general acceptance of a different, and largely contradictory, theory by the end of the 1980s: parallel letterwise recognition.[2] Since 2000, parallel letterwise recognition has been more evangelized to typographers by Microsoft's Dr Kevin Larson, via conference presentations and a widely read article.[3] Nonetheless, ongoing research (starting from 2009) often supports the bouma model of reading.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bouma, H., (1971), "Visual Recognition of Isolated Lower-Case Letters", Vision Research, 11, 459-474.
    - Bouma, H., (1973), "Visual Interference in the Parafoveal Recognition of Initial and Final Letters of Words", Vision Research, 13, 762-782.
  2. ^ Adams, M.J., (1979), "Models of word recognition", Cognitive Psychology, 11, 133-176.
    - McClelland, J.L. & Johnson, J.C. (1977), "The role of familiar units in perception of words and nonwords", Perception and Psychophysics, 22, 249-261.
    - Paap, K.R., Newsome, S.L., & Noel, R.W. (1984), "Word shape’s in poor shape for the race to the lexicon", Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 10, 413-428.
    - Rayner, K. (1975), "The perceptual span and peripheral cues in reading", Cognitive Psychology, 7, 65-81.
  3. ^ Kevin Larson (20 October 2017). "The Science of Word Recognition". Microsoft. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  4. ^ Maximilian Riesenhuber (24 March 2015). "After Learning New Words, Brain Sees Them As Pictures". Georgetown University Medical Center. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
    - Laurie S. Glezer, Judy Kim, Josh Rule, Xiong Jiang, and Maximilian Riesenhuber (25 March 2015). "Adding Words to the Brain's Visual Dictionary: Novel Word Learning Selectively Sharpens Orthographic Representations in the VWFA" (PDF). The Journal of Neuroscience. 35 (12): 4965–4972. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4031-14.2015. PMC 4389595. PMID 25810526. Retrieved 24 November 2019.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

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