It dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm.
What does that being readable tell us? People tend to mentally index words they know by: first letter, last letter, length, and letter counts. A mental index with superfluous dimensions is inefficient, so people separate out attributes of words with high entropy then use those to search for that word. The full letter order is probably only used for comparison against known spelling after a word is retrieved.
These searches are symbolic, not numeric. So maybe mental searches are "contains 1+ of (letter) in the middle" rather than by specific letter counts. If that's true, then what are some words that would be commonly confused when reading?
programmer // progamer
recommend // reccommend
Certain common letter sequences such as "ing" may be treated as a single symbol. Words are probably put into specific categories for each small length, and then anything over that is probably just "long". And maybe vowels in the middle aren't as important. Let's scramble the middle, remove middle vowels, and try to keep common word endings.
It dsn’t mttr in wht ordr the lttrs in a wrd are, the only iprmtnt thng is tht the frst and lst lttr be in the rght plce. The rst cn be a ttl mss and yu cn stll rd it whtout a pbrlm.
(With vowels removed, and preserving common prefixes + endings, there's not much room to scramble letters in the middle.)
If vowels in the middle are less important, then these should be commonly confused:
definitely // defiantly
dfntly // dfntly
With hanzi, people probably index meaning by the set of radicals used. In terms of mental resources required for indexing written words, Chinese and English are probably similar. The advantage of a phonetic writing system is more in learning to read and knowing how to say words you've read.
Early writing systems used pictographs, and those evolved into hanzi. Phonetic writing seems to have come from special hanzi used to represent sounds. Eventually alphabets were developed as a special writing system for representing spoken language, and then eventually phonetic writing became dominant in some areas.
So, what determined which won? Phonetic writing is easier to learn to read, so whether reading was helpful or encouraged for common people was a big factor, and that largely depended on government. In many areas, elites wanted reading to stay exclusive. Hanzi also tend to take less space to write, and paper used to be much more expensive, so development of early paper technology was also important.
Now we have computers, which can solve many of the problems of learning hanzi vs phonetic writing. Pronunciation and meaning can be looked up instantly. On the other hand, English is better for typing than Chinese, and programming with hanzi doesn't work very well.
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