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 prominent vision researcher Herman Bouma, who studied the shapes and confusability of letters and letter strings.[1][2]

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.[3][4][5][6] In recent years (starting from 2000) parallel letterwise recognition has been more evangelized to typographers by Microsoft's Dr Kevin Larson, via conference presentations and a widely read article.[7] Nonetheless, ongoing research (starting from 2009) often supports the bouma model of reading.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bouma, H. (1971). Visual Recognition of Isolated Lower-Case Letters. Vision Research, 11, 459-474.
  2. ^ Bouma, H. (1973). Visual Interference in the Parafoveal Recognition of Initial and Final Letters of Words, Vision Research, 13, 762-782.
  3. ^ Adams, M.J. (1979). Models of word recognition. Cognitive Psychology, 11, 133-176.
  4. ^ McClelland, J.L. & Johnson, J.C. (1977). The role of familiar units in perception of words and nonwords. Perception and Psychophysics, 22, 249-261.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Rayner, K. (1975). The perceptual span and peripheral cues in reading. Cognitive Psychology, 7, 65-81.
  7. ^ "The Science of Word Recognition".
  8. ^ "After Learning New Words, Brain Sees Them As Pictures".
  9. ^ "Adding Words to the Brain's Visual Dictionary: Novel Word Learning Selectively Sharpens Orthographic Representations in the VWFA" (PDF).

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