I've recently became aware of the concept of subvocalization, where people make tiny motions with their vocal cords when reading. I'm looking for a clarification on the subject:

Does subvocalization only take place when reading, or does it take place during thinking too?

I found a some articles on the subject of detection of subvocalization

Modern technology can detect the small movements made during subvocalization by monitoring electrical impulses. As of 2011, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is working on technology to detect these forms of silent speech. By reading these faint electrical impulses that occur during the process of subvocalization, machines could appear to read a person's mind and respond seemingly without the person saying anything. All the person would need to do is clearly think the command he wants the machine to carry out.

The last statement makes it seem as if subvocalization can be detected during thought.

  • $\begingroup$ The real question is why of subvocalization, this (perhaps among other things) helps maintain operational memory in the phonological loop. Therefore if it is an internal monologue, dedicated to a complex processing of information, it should also produce subvocalization, surely there are many articles that comment this, look for attention psychology and phonological loop maintenance. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ I do when I am pondering a problem or formulating something that is intended for an audience, and sometimes during typing, especially complex and long sentences. But not during "general thought" or reading. This has recently made the news, but I'd say it is more of an "activity simulation" for NASA to justify research grants, and clickbait for websites for ad revenues than it is a viable means to "read minds". $\endgroup$
    – dtech
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 14:32

1 Answer 1


Short answer
Sub-vocalization can also be detected during cognitive demanding tasks other than reading.

As far as I can see, most literature acknowledges sub-vocalizing as being only detectable by measuring the electrical nerve activity that drive the speech organs (e.g., Parnin (2011) and NASA Research). When people perform complex tasks, these sub-vocal utterances can be recorded as electrical signals sent to the tongue, lips, or vocal cords, and these can be detected.

Sub-vocalizing has been mostly described in terms of reading (e.g. Slowiaczek & Clifton, 1980). Nonetheless, more recent literature also associates and acknowledges sub-vocalization when people perform mental tasks that claim a lot of mental processing, such as software programming (e.g., Parnin (2011), so the answer to your question is yes, it also occurs during thinking.

Interestingly, as a side note, stutterers sub vocalize more slowly, reflecting the fact that indeed much of the same mechanisms are at work during sub-vocalization as during normal speech (Bosshardt, 1990).

- Bosshardt, J Speech Hear Res (1990); 33(4): 776-85
- Parnin, IEEE 19th International Conference on Program Comprehension (2011)
- J Verbal Learning Verbal Behav (1980); 19(5): 573-82


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