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Subvocalization, or silent speech, is the internal speech typically made when reading; it provides the sound of the word as it is read.[1] This is a natural process when reading and it helps the mind to access meanings to comprehend and remember what is read, potentially reducing cognitive load.[2] The term merges the internal speech with involuntary minute movement of muscles associated with speaking, which does not require the literal moving of one's lips. Most of these movements are undetectable (without the aid of machines) by the person who is reading.[2] It is highly debatable whether such involuntary action has the same impact on faster reading as loud internal speech has.

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]

At the slower rates (memorizing, learning, and reading for comprehension), subvocalizing by the reader is very detectable. At the 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]

Typically, subvocalizing is an inherent part of reading and understanding a word. Micro-muscle tests suggest that full and permanent elimination of subvocalizing is impossible. This may originate in the way 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]

At the slower reading rates (100-300 words per minute), subvocalizing may 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.


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 could be achieved allowing people to communicate silently.[5]


  1. ^ 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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