Most people cannot identify or are unaware of the more common version of the lowercase print letter “g,” despite seeing it millions of times in everyday books, newspapers and emails, a study has found.
According to researchers at the Johns Hopkins University in the US, most people don’t even know that two forms of the letter – one usually handwritten, the other typeset – exist.
“Even if they do, they can not write the typeset one we usually see. They can not even pick the correct version of it out of a lineup,” researchers suggest.
The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance, show the importance writing plays in learning letters.
“We think that if we look at something enough, especially if we have to pay attention to its shape as we do during reading, then we would know what it looks like, but our results suggest that’s not always the case,” said Michael McCloskey, a researcher at Johns Hopkins.
“What we think may be happening here is that we learn the shapes of most letters in part because we have to write them in school. ‘Looptail g’ is something we’re never taught to write, so we may not learn its shape as well,” McCloskey said.
Unlike most letters, “g” has two lowercase print versions. There is the open tail one that most everyone uses when writing by hand; it looks like a loop with a fishhook hanging from it.
The looptail g, which is more common, is seen in everyday fonts like Times New Roman and Calibri and, hence, in most printed and typed material.
To test people’s awareness of the ‘g’ they tend to write and the ‘g’ they tend to read, the researchers conducted a three-part experiment.
First, they wanted to figure out if people knew there were two lowercase print gs. They asked 38 adults to list letters with two lowercase print varieties. Just two named g, and only one could write both forms correctly.
“We would say: ‘There’re two forms of g. Can you write them?’ And people would look at us and just stare for a moment because they had no idea,” said Kimberly Wong, a junior undergraduate at Johns Hopkins.
“Once you really nudged them on, insisting there are two types of g, some would still insist there is no second g,” said Wong.
The researchers then asked 16 new participants to silently read a paragraph filled with looptail gs but to say each word with a “g” aloud.
Immediately after participants finished, they were asked to write the “g” that they just saw 14 times. Half of them wrote the wrong type, the opentail. The others attempted to write a looptail version, but only one could.
Finally, the team asked 25 participants to identify the correct looptail g in a multiple-choice test with four options. Just seven succeeded.
“They don’t entirely know what this letter looks like, even though they can read it. This is not true of letters in general,” said graduate student Gali Ellenblum.
This outlier “g” seems to demonstrate that our knowledge of letters can suffer when we do not write them, researchers said.
As we write less and become more dependent on electronic devices, the researchers wonder about the implications for reading.