Can you forget how to read?

Suppose, for whatever reason, you were stranded on an island for decades with no human contact, no books, no written materials of any kind. Could a human being forget why those little marks make sounds, or is reading something like riding a bicycle – you never forget?

I find it hard to imagine not being able to read, but I know many people who find no pleasure in the act and may not try hard to remember the skill if they were placed in a situation (like the aforementioned desert island) where reading was not essential.

Any takers?


Well, working from the assumption that it works like and is directly tied to language, I think (working totally from memory) that people may have some trouble getting back up to speed, but that they’ll soon relearn if exposed to a hgh-information environment. That or have a psycotic episode.

Considering the situation bandit you performed admirably with that answer. :wink:

Hiroo Onoda, and others like him, voluntarily “stranded” themselves on Lubang Island. For almost 30 years he hid there, absolutely convinced that WWII was still going on and any attempt to lure him out was a trick by the Allies. By 1959 (through 1972) he was alone in the jungle. Yet, when someone actually found him, he was able to converse with that person. He was still able to read letters and, later, after he finally came out of hiding, he published a memoir of his experiences.

Bar a brain injury, language seems to be hard-wired into the brain. I don’t think you can just forget how to read or write. You may have to retrain your hand muscles to hold a pencil and make the letters, much like a child first learning, but you won’t have forgotten how.

Assuming the stranded individual could write before ending up on said island, I think they would retain at least most of their ability to read. I say this because I’m fairly certain that they would eventually turn to drawing on sand, rocks, etc. for entertainment. Given the proclivity of people to “leave their mark”, I assume they would write their name occasionally as well. They might even play certain word games, such as the “see how many words you can make using letters from the given word” in order to pass the time.

Of course, these are just things that I would do in that situation. But I think that if there were no alternate activites, most people would do something similar eventually.

I think it’s safe to say, such person would have brain lock, but would be temporary, a few minutes at most.

I think what might go down would be a person’s vocabulary. I know that if I encounter a word I’m not familiar with and find out its definition, I often forget what it means if I don’t encounter it again for a few months. My guess is that you would still be able to read, but your ability to comprehend much of what you were reading would be greatly diminished.

And in the case of Onoda, although he was alone, it was by choice. People would regularly try to get him to come out, post signs telling him the war was over, call to him, etc. So he had plenty of opportunities to read and communicate. He just thought they were all enemy tricks so he never responded.