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Subvocalization, or silent speech, is defined as the internal speech made when reading a word, thus allowing the reader to imagine the sound of the word as it is read.[1] This is a natural process when reading and helps to reduce cognitive load, and it helps the mind to access meanings to enable it to comprehend and remember what is read.[2] Although some people associate subvocalization with moving one's lips, the actual term refers primarily to the movement of muscles associated with speaking, not the literal moving of lips. Most subvocalization is undetectable (without the aid of machines) even by the person doing the subvocalizing.[2]

Comparison to speed reading[edit]

Advocates of speed reading generally claim that subvocalization places extra burden on the cognitive resources, thus, slowing the reading down.[3] Speedreading courses often prescribe lengthy practices to eliminate subvocalizing when reading. Normal reading instructors often simply apply remedial teaching to a reader who subvocalizes to the degree that they make visible movements on the lips, jaw, or throat.[4]

No evidence exists that normal non-observable subvocalizing will negatively affect any reading process.[1] At the more powerful rates (memorizing, learning, and reading for comprehension), subvocalizing by the reader is very detectable. At the less powerful, faster rates of reading, (skimming, and scanning) subvocalization is less detectable. For competent readers, subvocalizing to some extent even at scanning rates is normal.[4]

It may be impossible to totally and permanently eliminate subvocalization because people learn to read by associating the sight of words with their spoken sounds. Sound associations for words are indelibly imprinted on the nervous system—even of deaf people, since they will have associated the word with the mechanism for causing the sound or a sign in a particular sign language.[citation needed] Subvocalizing is an inherent part of reading and understanding a word, and micro-muscle tests suggest that subvocalizing is impossible to permanently eliminate. At the more powerful reading rates (100-300 words per minute), subvocalizing can be used to improve comprehension.[2]

Subvocalizing or actual vocalizing can indeed be of great help when one wants to learn a passage verbatim. This is because the person is repeating the information in an auditory way, as well as seeing the piece on the paper.[citation needed]


Subvocal recognition involves monitoring actual movements of the tongue and vocal cords that can be interpreted by electromagnetic sensors. Through the use of electrodes and nanocircuitry, synthetic telepathy can be achieved allowing people to communicate silently.[5]


  1. ^ a b Carver, R.P-Prof (1990) Reading Rate: A Comprehensive Review of Research and Theory (1990)
  2. ^ a b c Rayner, Keith and Pollatsek, Alexander (1994) The Psychology of Reading
  3. ^ Charlotte Emigh (2011), "Subvocalization", Accelerated Reading (University of Puget Sound Center for Writing, Learning & Teaching) 
  4. ^ a b McWhorter, K. (2002) Efficient and Flexible Reading. Longman
  5. ^

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