Subvocalization: Why Most of Us Have a Voice in Our Heads When We Read

What Is Subvocalization, That Reading Voice in Our Heads?

Photo: STUDIOSTOKS/Depositphotos

As you read these words, you can probably hear them being pronounced in your head. It's like listening to an audiobook or hearing someone read a fairytale's beginning. This process of reading aloud inside your head is very common, although some people try to purposefully eliminate the practice for faster reading. This internal speech is called subvocalization. Why humans have developed this habit and what it means for cognition are fascinating topics of scientific study. Subvocalization turns out to reveal a lot about speech, thoughts, and reading.

Researchers have hypothesized that subvocalization is a memory aid, allowing us to conceptually hold on to words as we read ahead to complete a passage's sentences. Dr. Russell Moul wrote about this phonological loop, as postulated by Alan Baddeley, for IFL Science. Under this theory, repeating in our head as we read keeps words in a cyclical sort of mental storage for language. Therefore, understanding what is read becomes like understanding speech. There is also evidence that subvocalization is helpful to reading comprehension, where concepts must be integrated mentally to understand a passage.

It is thought that subvocalization develops from our earliest experiences with reading. Young children learn to read by sounding out words and sentences, by reading aloud. Eventually as we get better at reading skills, the vocalization becomes internal. Subvocalization has been shown to correlate with parts of our throats, tongue, and other body parts that are used in audible speech. Nerve signals to the brain are also similar to speech. To some, subvocalization seems like a hindrance to reading speed, leading to efforts to suppress the internal monologue. By reading frequently, the subvocalization may become less distracting and reading speed can increase. But if you enjoy your inner “Audible,” you can rest assured it helps you process and appreciate the text.

Subvocalization is the internal voice that reads aloud inside our heads while we process text.

What Is Subvocalization, That Reading Voice in Our Heads?

Photo: T.TOMSICKOVA/Depositphotos

This skill likely stems from how our brains process language as well as how children are taught to read by sounding out words.

What Is Subvocalization, That Reading Voice in Our Heads?

Photo: PERIG76/Depositphotos

h/t: [IFL Science]

Related Articles:

Dermatologist Says There’s One Spot That People Forget To Put Sunscreen On

Experts Say People Are Washing This One Body Part They Actually Don’t Need To

Revolutionary Technology Digitally Reconstructs Faces of Ancient Skulls Found in Scotland

U.S. Government’s Recommended Thermostat Temperatures Have Absolutely Shocked Everyone

Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
Become a
My Modern Met Member
As a member, you'll join us in our effort to support the arts.
Become a Member
Explore member benefits

Sponsored Content