This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Nuts and Bolts: chunking.

The other day I came across a proofreadbot page that contained a short essay on sentence-length.

'Most professional editors and textbook writers try to maintain an average sentence length of 15 to 20 words. This ideal size range is based on chunking and human memory principles, and some sentences will be longer than 20 words. In academic texts for example, you may have sentences of 30 or 35 words.

Try to break up long sentences (more than 35 words) to smaller ones, and join short sentences (less than 10 words) to neighboring sentences with a coordinating or a subordinating conjunction.'

Well, the first thing that struck me was the less than 10 words bit (fewer words, ideally, and please spell out the word ten). Then I sniffed rather about the lack of a comma after texts, and decided that it should be into, not to, before smaller.

But aftre that I found myself wondering what chunking was, because it sounds perfectly scrummy.

And, well, I don't know if chunking is lovely, exactly, but it is interesting. Chunking is the idea that a group of words are sometimes processed in the brain as a single idea. An example might be a phrase like once upon a time, or cover to cover.

Chunks are used all the time. Sometimes small children learn chunks and only later split them up into words: oh dear!

When is a chunk not a chunk? Well, in it broke the ice, it rather depends whether the ice was broken by a joke or an axe.

photo: wikimedia commons

In any case, from now on the idea of chunking has changed my whole attitude to words.

So thanks to proofreadbot for that, at least.

Word To Use Today: chunk. My Collins dictionary says that this is a variant of CHUCK. The entry under CHUCK says it's a variant of CHOCK. And CHOCK is apparently of uncertain origin,


...though the dictionary does mutter something about the Provençal word soca, which means tree stump.

Chunk and chunking were introduced as language terms by the psychologist George A. Miller in his 1956 paper "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information".

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