Reading without moving your lips

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Fraggle Rocker, Jun 8, 2007.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    I've separated this discussion out of another thread...

    We make jokes about people who "move their lips while they read." We don't realize that Plato and Cicero surely read that way, and perhaps even Shakespeare and Cervantes.

    I'm curious about the rest of you, but... When I read to myself, my brain does not convert the written words directly into meaning. It converts them into spoken words, which it then runs silently through my speech center.

    When writing was first invented, what few accounts we have of the new technology indicate that people could only read written language by reciting it aloud. Even if they were not reading to others, they had to "read" to themselves. The written symbols had to be converted to aural symbols before they could be interpreted. Eventually they became able to read silently, but their mouths were still moving, a sign that the speech center was still in use.

    Remember that before the invention of the printing press and the spread of education to very young children, most people probably learned to read at a relatively late age. At an earlier age we seem to be able to bypass the speech apparatus and connect written words directly to the speech center without moving our lips.

    Speaking from experience, I think there's a threshold in there. I find that when I read languages that use a more or less unmodified Latin alphabet, even languages I don't know well, the sounds manifest silently in my brain, like English. But languages using alphabets I learned as a teenager or adult don't work the same way. I often notice myself muttering when I confront Yiddish, which uses the Hebrew alphabet, even though the spoken language is not quite so much of a struggle for me. Even more so for Russian and its Cyrillic alphabet, which I don't speak at all well. Even Czech and Polish, with their Latin alphabets augmented by a bewildering array of diacritical marks, sometimes coax me into reading aloud. I did not study any of those writing systems until I was about 15.

    Oddly, I read Chinese silently, even though I'm a beginner with kanji and didn't start to learn it until I was 26. Perhaps the completely unphonetic system breaks the link in my brain.

    I'm curious if everyone reads like I do, with spoken words forming in their brains.

    This discussion was kicked off by wondering whether anyone has learned to read Hebrew without bothering to get the vowels, which are not quite phonemic, usually have no impact on the meaning, and are not printed except in student or liturgical material. Or Chinese. I'm sure somebody out there has puzzled his way through the language without bothering to study the rather difficult phonetics.

    Are people reading languages with no obvious phonetic equivalents in a different way than we read our native languages? Without forming sounds? Direct from written symbol to meaning? That would be fascinating.
     
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  3. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    I just read, no sounds or lip movements or anything.
     
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Can you describe the cognitive process? Do you sense the words as "words" or as units of meaning?

    I suppose a good test would be to compare the way you read prose to the way you read poetry--at least traditional poetry rather than so-called "blank verse." Do you sense the meter and rhyme in poetry? Does your brain have to switch into a different mode than it's accustomed to in order to do that?

    Do you notice puns when you read, or only when spoken aloud?
     
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  7. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

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    I read too fast to form the sounds in my head.
    I only "pronounce" the word in my thoughts if it's, say, a brand new-to-me one or an obscure name for a character in a novel.

    Just caught your second post:
    yes, I change my reading pattern for poetry, as I try to get the rhyme, scansion, meter and everything else. Poetry I do "read out loud" in my head.
     
  8. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    I find it jarring if words are asynchronous or not metered in poetry, unless the sentiments are exceptionally well expressed. In prose, I absorb the words rather than read them, I don't have to read each and every word to understand what the sentiment is, but I am sensitive to the way that sentences are framed and words are used. No I don't read poetry or prose "out loud" though I read poetry more closely.

    I thought it was like that for everyone.

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    edit: I have to say, a well constructed phrase or pun or poem gives me a distinct physical thrill.
     
  9. The Devil Inside Banned Banned

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    man, i missed the hebrew thread!
    i taught myself biblical hebrew with about 20 different books designed to teach a lone individual how to read the torah. it wasnt as difficult as you might think..certainly easier for me to learn than flemish (2 years of study, and i still struggle with bending my tongue correctly).

    i found that the absolute distance hebrew has from my native english was actually an asset. i didnt have familiar patterns to fall back on to be lazy with

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    i dont move my lips when reading it, however.
    can anyone else here read in hebrew?
     
  10. shorty_37 Go! Canada Go! Registered Senior Member

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    I have to read your posts outloud and i can't pronounce or understand half the words.:shrug:
     
  11. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

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    Do you read them with an English accent though?
     
  12. shorty_37 Go! Canada Go! Registered Senior Member

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    no canadian
     
  13. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

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    There you are then. That's the root of the problem.

    However, to answer more of Fraggles' question:

    after thinking about it more:

    French I read as I would English - I just absorb it. As with Italian (the bit I do understand), and the few bits of Arabic I know I'm learning to take in immediately, but Russian is mostly read "out loud" in my head (probably due to lack of practice and the bloody stupid shape of the words (I read somewhere that practised readers of English recognise words by their shape rather than break them down into letter-by-letter sequences), but odd words are taken in as a unit.
     
  14. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

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    If you have a link or reference showing that the likes of Plato or other ancients couldn't recognize written words unless they were spoken aloud, I'd be very interested to see it. Frankly, I'm more than a little skeptical that I have a power that Plato and Cicero lacked. (As I have no inclination to mouthing words as I read or write them.)

    The first written languages are so old that we surely do not have descriptions of how readily they were adopted...that was not the sort of thing the Egyptians/mesopotamian/Chinese (depending on which you believe came first) would have written down or that would have been likely to survive had it been written down. Even within particular cultures at issue, writing wasn't new to the Greeks when Plato started writing, nor new to the Romans when Cicero wrote. From their individual perspectives, writing was a common skill for people in their (privileged) positions.

    I do agree that we all process language in similar ways, and "sounding out" words in alphabetic languages is a common way to teach reading because spoken language is so much more intuitive than reading. Much as many people (in the U.S. at least) learn the alphabet as small children by singing the "Alphabet Song" though, at some point one is expected to outgrow that mental crutch, just as they are with "sounding out" words aloud.

    I don't think that the failure to lose that mental crutch is a sure sign of a lack of intelligence, but it could in certain circumstances be evidence of some stunting in an individual's education and general literacy.
     
  15. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    There should be some brain wave studies on line somewhere, in which IIRC even very fast reading activates the speech and physical vocalization areas of the brain - as well as the auditory.

    Found a couple:

    http://hendrix.ei.dtu.dk/services/jerne/brede/WOEXP_398.html

    http://www.magicspeedreading.com/subvocalization/index.html
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2007
  16. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

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    Surely the faster you read the less likely you are to "vocalise" since vocalisation would be relatively slow.

    My reading speed is up around 600-650 wpm and a good speaker is apparently 125-175 wpm (rapidly Googled for ballpark figures).

    So how do I "keep up" if I vocalise?
     
  17. Dark520 Rebuilt Registered Senior Member

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    Well, there are two ways that I read, yet neither of them involve moving my lips or mouth. The first is just when I'm skimming or trying to read something quickly: I just glance at the sentence and I can recognize shape of the words in chunks (usually half a line in a book). The second is when I actually try to read something in depth, I just say the sentence to myself, in my head, with no movement of my mouth.
     
  18. Roman Banned Banned

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    I think I've been reading since I was 6 or 7, though my mom definitely had books and stuff in front of me probably since I was 4. As long as I can remember, anyway. Reading, most the time, is visual. Sure, it triggers the speech center in the brain every now and then, but mostly it's interpretation from symbol to significance. I see words. If I read something, I can often remember exactly where in a book I read it. Not necessarily the page number, but it's location- middle right, upper left, etc. When I recall the phrase, I also recall it's position.

    Sometimes language comes to me toally visually. I see the shapes of words, the way they're stringed together, and I understand the meaning without having to subvocalize. When I'm reading jargon, techincal stuff, math, science, etc., I have to slow down and vocalize, pondering each word in my head.

    When I write, sometimes I vocalize. Sometimes I don't; the words come in bursts, strings, a flow, more like music than something verbal. Other times, I struggle to convey a thought. I search for a word, sounding them out in my head, playing my incomplete sentence back like audiotape, to see if the new word fits, if it means what I mean.

    When reading Spanish sometimes I just see the word and know it. Most the time it has to run through translation centers, though, and requires extensive processing. I find reading spanish extremely exhausting, because I have to run all the words through speech centers and translation, and then put sentences, paragraphs, and thoughts back together, piecemeal.
     
  19. Zephyr Humans are ONE Registered Senior Member

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    Usually I mentally hear what I'm reading. If I try doing it purely visually, the concepts tend to jumble out of order and make me dizzy.

    Roman, you say that when you write you don't always vocalise, but you mention music. Music, like speech, is a linear form of thought unlike pictures which are parallel (and faster). Do you think this musical form of thought has anything to do with the way you read?

    My writing is a mixture of sound and visual - I think I type based on sound (as if I'm speaking to someone) but I definitely spellcheck visually. I can easily type 'their' instead of 'there' without noticing, and just as easily see the mistake afterwards.
     
  20. temur man of no words Registered Senior Member

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    Even though I don't move my lips or do anything close to that, I think I read through the center that senses sound because i can almost "hear" what am reading. May be sometimes I read directly converting string of letters into meaning, but when I concentrate to see what is happening, it becomes difficult to tell what is happening. When i see mathematical formula I certainly convert them into meaning without reading like "eks equal to square root of alpha".
     
  21. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

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    Have not read any of thread, but want to point out that reading without moving your eyes (only possible with words sequencially displayed on screen where you are "fixating") is at least an order of magnitude faster than normal reading. (This eliminates the saccades between fixations of normal reading, which take up most of the time.) The upper limit of reading rate with full comprehension of one subject tested was too high to be measured. (One high speed monitor display frame, then one blank frame, then next word (or several if image still in fovea) etc. was not fast enough to cause decrease in comprehension). Brain is not limiting your reading speed.
     
  22. Zephyr Humans are ONE Registered Senior Member

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  23. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

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    Yes, exactly, but I rarely visit wiki. I have a paper or two on RSVP somewhere in the meter tall stack of Xeroxes I brought to Brazil 15 years ago*. The work I mentioned I am almost sure was done at Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Clinic - I had some contact with them, but more with the neurosurgery department, while working at JHU/ Applied Physics Lab.
    -------------------------
    *Until visit to your wiki link, I did not realize RSVP now has some commercial interest.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 9, 2007

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