Not sure if this is the right stack exchange site but here goes..

Couple of people at my workplace seem to whisper or quietly speak the material they read. They do this routinely, and they speak more loudly when they don't understand what they are reading. The latter I've done when trying to figure out how the writer intended a particularly complex sentence to be read, but as far as I'm aware when I read I do so silently

This observation arose from a related debate with my partner about reading in one's head - she claims to hear her own voice speaking the words she sees when she reads. She doesn't understand my claim that I don't hear any voice, let alone my own..

What mechanisms is the brain employing when it reads? Why do some people vocalise their words, and others imagine themselves doing so? Are these concepts related?

  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about personal idiosyncrasies.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 5 '15 at 22:34
  • 4
    Subvocalisation is also culturally driven: one homophone-based study from 1981 implies that English-readers rely more on subvocalisation than Chinese-readers, and many follow-up studies reinforce the robustness of the effect among Sinophone and Anglophone populations.
    – Michaelyus
    Jun 10 '15 at 11:53
  • Subvocalization is going on a lot more than most of us think or are aware and able to detect without the use of machines. It could be an important part of keeping information in the phonological loop, for instance. Some people have less inhibition or more need of the stimulus and so do it more audibly. Dec 7 '17 at 13:22
  • It's a bit surprising that nobody mentioned that silent reading is a relatively new invention, and that traditionally all reading was aloud.
    – user6726
    Dec 27 '20 at 1:45

Reading aloud is a normal stage when children learn reading in an alphabetic script. (I am not sure about non-alphabetic scripts.) After a while the process usually gets automated to the point where due to certain shortcuts, reading without voicing the words is not just possible, but even significantly faster.

Nevertheless some adults still read everything or at least some things aloud. They may not have read enough for the automation to happen, or they may have encountered unusual problems. Or they may have found that they process a text more thoroughly when they force themselves to read slowly by reading aloud.

Personally I am in the curious position that I read silently in my native German and in English, but I normally read books aloud when reading French. I think this is at least in part because I used to do this consciously to improve my French pronunciation and listening comprehension.

  • 1
    I haven't a reference, but I'm sure I remember reading that silent reading became the norm only in the last couple of centuries.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 7 '15 at 22:46
  • 2
    Augustine of Hippo records in his Confessions his astonishment at Ambrose's "silent reading": see here.
    – Michaelyus
    Jun 10 '15 at 11:38
  • People may also do this automatically to concentrate; I know one person who does it when there's background noise but not when it's quiet. Dec 7 '17 at 13:17

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