When we start reading a piece of text, how do our brains know to read it in such a way that accounts for both the upcoming punctuation and sentence structure that we haven’t gotten to yet?

221 views

When we start reading a piece of text, how do our brains know to read it in such a way that accounts for both the upcoming punctuation and sentence structure that we haven’t gotten to yet?

In: Biology

Your brain processes your peripheral vision even though you aren’t focused on it. Not a scientist.

This actually doesn’t happen for everyone. If we practice reading we get used to the pattern of the writing and sentence structure. Our brains are usually very good at picking up and repeating patterns.

It doesn’t always work, even for people with a lot of practice, think about when you have been reading aloud and the last few words of a sentence are on a different page; I’ve had to reread those lines to fix my prosody.

Edited punctuation.

Your brain looks ahead while your eyes stay on the word you are reading. If a class ever made you ever read aloud you may have noticed some kids occasionally finish the sentence at the edge of the page even though the sentence continues on the next line. Their brain told them it ends there so finish up. This is one reason why reading books is so important as a kid.

The structure of our language syntax accounts for this, usually. There is also a lot of implications involved, sort of ‘read between the lines’ type stuff that’s supposed to be inferred.

Are you reading this with an upward inflection as to create the tone of a question?

The first word of the sentence set it up to be a question. You know this inherently, but you probably can’t site any specific rules off the top of your head for how or why this is.

We can’t.

Instead, we form sentences in a way that makes the structure clear. For example, is I said:

The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families.

You’d probably think the sentence doesn’t make any sense, but if I said:

The housing complex houses married and single soldiers and their families.

It would not only easily make sense, but it would also clarify the structure of the previous sentence, causing it to now make sense.

Sentences that are formed in a way where it’s difficult to determine the structure as you hear or read it are called [garden-path sentences](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden-path_sentence).

Your brain is constantly predicting, like Google search complete. Each new word you read narrows down where the sentence is going to go.

Also, your eyes scan ahead a little.

An analogy: reading is like getting out of bed and going to the washroom in the dark in your own home. You mostly know where and how the task will play out, but you could be tripped up when things are not where you expect.

It might be helpful to compare it to another perspective. If you learn another language and you haven’t yet developed the fluency to predict the sentence structure, reading moves a lot slower, even if you know all of the words. You’re taking in each word as it comes and reading that sentence.

To continue the previous analogy, it’s like going to the washroom in the dark in someone’s house you don’t know at all. You go slowly and check constantly so you don’t trip.

This is why it is so confusing when you read a sentence that someone has mistranslated or something, where you go back and read it like three times in a row, and still you’re like “okay, these are *words*, but with this weird ordering, what the hell are they trying to say!?”