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Live Ink and Chinese Literacy

A long time ago I noticed that even though I’m much more comfortable with simplified characters than I am with complex-form characters, I find columnar Chinese to be much more comfortable to read than horizontally printed Chinese when it comes to avoiding eye strain, brain strain, and the problem of losing my place in a text.

So I was particularly interested to hear about Live Ink, a new system for parsing and formatting (English) text to maximize readability and retention. Apparently the word recognition studies that the company did showed that people tend to focus on a small group of words in any given line, with the preceing and following lines in peripheral vision, and that readers tended to focus on individual verbs or clauses. The system takes text and breaks it into smaller, more easily readable chunks, staggers them across the page, and (in some of the demos I’ve seen) colors verbs to set them apart further. There are some demos on the product site.

This strikes me as something that would be really helpful to me as a reader of Chinese – though I suppose the sentence parsing could be harder in Chinese than in English. (Though then again, the system seems mostly to be breaking things into smaller chunks, rather than identifying what function the individual chunks are serving.) Perhaps I should bug David to implement this in Adso.

Also, because I can’t resist, with apologies to e.e. cummings:

Walker Reading Technologies'
released
        what promises to
        break text into easilyreadable
                                  chunks
and stagger the lines onetwothreefourfive acrossthepage

                                                  Jesus

that's a cool idea
                      and what i want to know is
how do you like your new textformatting system
Mister Linguist

10 Comments

  1. yz wrote:

    love the idea, but one sentence could have different meanings by different breaks…

    Friday, May 18, 2007 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  2. True — that’s why segmentation would be more difficult than in Engilsh. Still, it seems like it could be feasible as long as the software doing it had a reasonably good dictionary and was smart about recognizing things like personal names. Adso isn’t perfect at this, but it’s generally pretty good at figuring out where words begin and end — certainly better than Google’s translation engine!

    Friday, May 18, 2007 at 5:42 pm | Permalink
  3. Kevin S. wrote:

    I have always been a slow reader (2 minutes per page for a paperback novel). Thanks for pointing out this idea. I’m willing to try anything that helps me to speed up my reading.

    Saturday, May 19, 2007 at 7:29 am | Permalink
  4. Patrick wrote:

    Reminds me of how Henry Glassie broke speech patterns into staggered lines in his transcriptions of an old farmer’s stories–remarkably effective in suggesting the rhythms of the original speaker, and added greatly to one’s understanding of how the speaker wished himself to be understood.

    Saturday, May 19, 2007 at 8:11 am | Permalink
  5. doug wrote:

    I think you need the word “now” at the end of the pentultimate line to keep the syntax and pacing in line with the “blue eyed boy” line from cummings.

    and i like the idea.

    Monday, May 21, 2007 at 9:52 am | Permalink
  6. Feng37 wrote:

    penultimate!
    BOK, can you point towards some columnar Chinese input systems? I’d like to play around and see if it’s any more effective in skipping around keyword filters, like the ubiquitous 冰/点.

    Something like this:
    http://taras.blog.sohu.com/45417359.html

    Thursday, May 24, 2007 at 5:59 pm | Permalink
  7. I don’t actually know of any columnar input systems. My impression is that it’s all determined by the word processor, rather than by the IME itself — and that likewise online text direction would be handled by CSS formatting, which would leave the text unchanged from the point of view of the Nanny’s baleful eye. (I think MS Word has this ability; I know that Apple’s word processor can do it, but I haven’t ever actually tried — will give it a shot when I get home.) I don’t know how Taras made that post — going by the source code, it looks to have been done manually rather than by any CSS trickery.

    Thursday, May 24, 2007 at 6:09 pm | Permalink
  8. Todd wrote:

    Haha, loved the poetic parody.

    Saturday, May 26, 2007 at 6:56 pm | Permalink
  9. Josh wrote:

    I have always found that if things are spaced better, then it’s easier to read. I find that having space around the text between paragraphs makes it a lot easier. Trying to read books which have very little space around words and are cramped makes it very tricky.

    I also find that it’s easier reading things which aren’t black on white but black on another(light) colour….. I think it’s a scientific thing as the white bounces the rays off a lot more than the colours when going back into the eye.

    Friday, June 8, 2007 at 7:33 pm | Permalink
  10. poagao wrote:

    I’d love to be able to write my Chinese blog top-to-bottom/right-to-left. Too bad WordPress doesn’t support that kind of format.

    Wednesday, June 13, 2007 at 12:45 am | Permalink

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