Oori writes: Researchers in Spain were curious enough to study how the cognitive system represents l33tspeak. In their work, R34D1NG W0RD5 W1TH NUMB3R5, Perea, Andoni,and Carreiras show that readers create regularized representations from words like M4T3R14L that are similar to those of the original word (MATERIAL). Conclusion: leet digits are coded as letters. Article can be accessed at www.uv.es/~mperea/leet1.pdf.
Letter identities and number identities are usually thought to imply different cortical mechanisms. Specifically, the left fusiform gyrus responds more to letters than to digits (T. A. Polk et al., 2002). However, a widely circulated statement on the internet illustrates that it is possible to use numbers (leet digits) as parts of words, 4ND TH3 R35ULT1NG S3NT3NC3 C4N B3 R34D W1TH0UT GR34T 3FF0RT. Two masked priming lexical decision experiments were conducted to determine whether leet digits produce (automatic) lexical activation. Results showed that words are identified substantially faster when they are preceded by a masked leet word (M4T3R14L-MATERIAL) than when they are preceded by a control condition with other letters or digits. In addition, there was only a negligible advantage of the identity condition over the related leet condition. This leet-priming effect is not specific to numbers: A prime in which leet digits are replaced by letter-like symbols (MTR!L-MATERIAL) facilitates word processing to the same degree as an identity prime. Therefore, the cognitive system regularizes the shape of the leet digits and letter-like symbols embedded in words with very little cost.