The shapes of letters in all languages are derived from common forms in nature, according to a new hypothesis. The idea, in some ways seemingly obvious and innately human, arose however from a study of how robots see the world. Robots employ object recognition technology to navigate a room by recognizing contours. A corner is seen as a “Y,” for example, and a wall is recognized by the L-shape it makes where it meets the floor.
“It struck me that these junctions are typically named with letters, such as ‘L,’ ‘T,’ ‘Y,’ ‘K,’ and ‘X,’ and that it may not be a coincidence that the shapes of these letters look like the things they really are in nature,” said Mark Changizi, a theoretical neurobiologist at the California Institute of Technology. Changizi and his colleagues think letters and symbols in Chinese, Latin, Persian and 97 other writing systems that have been used through the ages have shapes that humans are good at seeing.