In reading & writing, I for one, find myself subvocalizing the statement to myself. This behaviour is language-independent. However, the effort and subvocalization involved is greater in any language that I do not use regularly.

Is sub-vocalization when reading and writing merely a symptom of lack of fluency in a language?


2 Answers 2


My understanding was that at least some sub-vocalisation is a normal part of reading and writing. The wikipedia article on subvocalisation cites several sources supporting that claim. The article also claims that there is no evidence to suggest that speed reading training that involves suppression of sub-vocalisation is effective. There is also evidence that suppressing subvocalisation can in some instances result in decrements in performance (see Baddeley et al, 1981).

There is some evidence to suggest that degree of subvocalisation is related to complexity of the reading passage. Baddeley et al 1981 summarise the use of

the electromyographic monitoring of the muscles involved in vocalisation in order to study the role of articulation in reading (e.g. Sokolov, 1966). Using this technique, Hardyk and Petrinovitch (1970) concluded that subjects were able to read and comprehend simple prose without the occurrence of electromyographic activity, but that such activity did occur in the case of more complex passages.

One explanation would be that degree, prominence or frequency of subvocalisation increases as the reading task gets more difficult, where experienced difficulty would vary both based on the individual's ability with the language and with the objective difficulty of the reading passage.


  • Baddeley, A., Marge Eldridge & Vivien Lewis (1981): The role of subvocalisation in reading, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A: Human Experimental Psychology, 33:4, 439-454
  • HARDYK, C. D. and PETRINOVITCH, L. R. (1970). Subvocal speech and comprehension level as a function of the difficulty level of reading material. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 9, 647-52.
  • SOKOLOV, A. (1966). La parole intbrieure dans la pensbe concrete. In Recherches Psychologiques en U.R.S.S., les Editions du Progrks, U.R.S.S.

Children learn to read and write, by relating the written letters to the spoken word they already know. Due to the primacy of spoken language (in the cognitive development of the average healthy human being), the sounds of words are connected more strongly and more directly to their meaning, than their orthography is. Now, When you see a written word, the sound is (a) activated simply through the connection to the meaning and (b) because it is part of the connection of the orthography to the meaning.

Even if you don't subvocalize by suppresing it, you will always "hear" the sound of the word that you read (mental subvocalization). No hearing person can turn this off. Supressing subvocalization is simply an effort to hold still, and it uses energy and tires your mind.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ it uses energy and tires your mind Do you have any references for this? $\endgroup$
    – Josh
    Oct 6, 2012 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ I'm a psychologist of the school of Wilhelm Wundt. My answer was based on introspection. $\endgroup$
    – user1196
    Oct 6, 2012 at 17:11

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