First-language English readers recognize words by their shape(.)
Kevin Larson lays this claim to waste in one of the most epic articles I have ever read on the science of reading, complete with a lengthy reference list of peer-reviewed research articles.
Word shape is no longer a viable model of word recognition. The bulk of scientific evidence says that we recognize a word’s component letters, then use that visual information to recognize a word.
Hat tip to Chris Atherton, WildWinter, Jan Schultnik, and Daniel Tenner.