General Question

Ltryptophan's avatar

How are we able to hear what we read silently?

Asked by Ltryptophan (9109 points ) July 7th, 2011

When I read something I hear the words clear as a bell. If sound is caused by the inner workings of my ear then where is the reading voice in my head being heard?

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10 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

Your optic nerve is stimulating your brain, which is also, by reading, activating the part of your brain that translates what comes from your auditory system. The “voices” are in your brain, not in your auditory system.

seekingwolf's avatar

You can perceive certain stimuli as auditory when it is in fact, not from your ears. This is where “voices in your head” come from. @zenvelo did a good job of explaining what goes on.

Ltryptophan's avatar

@zenvelo I like your answer too.

Ltryptophan's avatar

I think it must have a lot to do with memory. What strikes me about it is how I would first have read a sentence when I was just learning to read. I’ll use the word voice as the example. At 5 I would have read “voice” like this: Vuh, OY, SUH. After doing that phonetic pattern countless times my memory began to know what it would expect to hear from my voice once I started looking at these symbols I am typing now. So when I see a letter my brain recognizes what the sound is that will be made if I were going to say it aloud. I remember it I think more than I “hear” it. I am remembering the sound. It is like a key on a piano. I read a word and certain keys are depressed which call up a memory.

One way I am proving this to myself is how similar the word is “heard” in my head each time I say it internally. There is no change like I might expect to hear in my own voice. The variation of the sound doesn’t show up.

On second thought, I was able to make the chipmunk voice in my head….

zenvelo's avatar

@Ltryptophan An interesting related phenomenon is that when one reads a book that captivates the imagination, one often develops a “voice” for certain characters, much like the mind’s eye creates an impression of what the character looks like. I think it has a lot do with how we appreciate certain movies developed from books. The casting of Harry Potter was very close to how people perceived the characters in the book.

Coloma's avatar

Those damn voices in our heads.

Great explanation @zenvelo

Yes, I catch myself taking on accents while reading material of ethnic origin. lol

Sunny2's avatar

Some people (me and others) must hear what they read or what is written makes no sense. Try humming as you read. If the written words make no sense, you’re one of us. It’s useful to know because it means you have to allow more time to read for information. Fiction is easier to read than non-fiction because there’s more conversation in fiction. Taking notes helps in reading non-fiction.

incendiary_dan's avatar

You actually read a lot slower if you read as if hearing the words. That’s why I read novels slower; I end up trying to get the tone the author imparts, but for most nonfiction that’s not necessary. I forget how to break the habit, though.

Ltryptophan's avatar

@obvek thanks for putting a name with the face, so to speak, er subvocalize. I checked out the article and it is quite interesting. A+ work. Thanks.

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