Excuse my virginity in linguistics, but it seems to me that phonetic alphabets are "only" protocols for audio compression into visual input/output media, optimized for human throat sounds.

I suppose that when a person gets a letter or word through visual input, her image recognition cortex sends virtual audio to her auditory cortex and only then she transforms these sounds into abstract concepts.

I suppose that this works in such an inefficient way because speech was invented long before writing, and early writing functioned as audio recordings of speech. Evolution often makes such inefficient systems, having to improvise "on the go".

So, my question is: does auditory cortex participate in reading process when human reads non-phonetic hieroglyphs? Or in this case hieroglyphic visual input bypasses the auditory cortex and transforms directly into abstract concepts?

  • It's very important to note that you can't ask questions about "humans" reading. There is no pan-human adaptation for reading. Reading is modern technology, by evolutionary standards, and there are no dedicated brain circuits for arbitrary stuff that has to be learned individually by teaching. There are many different ways people adapt their native mental systems to encompass reading. But there is no single visual input/output media protocol for all humans.
    – jlawler
    Jan 12 '13 at 1:10
  • It sounds to me like your model of reading assumes that we somehow recognize letters and decode them into acoustic representations, which we then use for lexical access. This seems unlikely, especially for a language like English where spelling alone doesn't help you much in figuring out how a word sounds. Psycholinguists have proposed a more direct route as well, where orthographic representation can directly access the lexicon. When this happens, the "audio" representation of the word is activated along with the meaning, which can give you the impression of auditory processing.
    – lapropriu
    Jan 12 '13 at 7:48

I guess, this question has both medical and linguistic senses. The latter is better to be asked on medical sites, so let me just answer it from the linguistic point of view.

This phenomenon is called Sub-vocalization.

And yes, sub-vocalization is considered to produce a negative effect for perception of written text. For example, techniques for rapid reading include suppressing your natural habit of sub-vocalizing when reading.

When you read a text in non-phonetic writing system (Chinese is the most prominent example), sub-vocalization is not involved, and this is why many rapid reading techniques are simply N/A for reading Chinese.
In other words, one can perceive Chinese text more rapidly (than as in alphabetic systems) without special training, specifically because the process is not slowed down by sub-vocalization.

There was a relevant question at Chinese.SE, please take a look at it.

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