If you’re anything like me, you may hear a little voice in your head when you read (e.g., this post) or think to yourself. THAT VOICE MAY GET LOUDER ON CUE, or it may get softer on cue.

At any rate, is there a word for this?

I ask, because I am writing an essay on how the language of set theory has facilitated mathematics in probability theory. One of my sections is on the vocabulary that the former has contributed to the latter, and I would like to point out that having specific words to describe concepts not only provides us with an efficient medium for discussion, but it can also concrete our thought processes.

As @HotLicks said in the comments, I am asking (more or less) if there exists an auditory analogue of visualize.

I just remembered from my psychology class that a scientist might call this an auditory memory being rehearsed in the working section of one’s short-term memory.

  • 2
    I'm tempted to say "What do the voices in your head suggest?", but I agree that there's no obvious analog to "visualize".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 20:38
  • @HotLicks What do you mean by the first part? Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 20:38
  • 4
    It's what I call "The Mind's Ear", and it is part of the reading equipment of many fluent English readers and writers, particularly poets. It routes written material through speech processing routines, producing an aural image of the language chunk. It's involved in lots of English grammar rules, like a/an, because they are all based on the sound of the language. This is a hard thing for a non-native speaker to pick up without constant reinforcement from native speakers because English spelling is so awful, but fluent native readers take it for granted. Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 20:48
  • 1
    The "first part" is based on an old line of jokes -- folks telling their doctors that they "hear voices". Supposedly a symptom of certain psychological disorders. When John Glen was being debriefed after the first US orbital space flight, he described specks floating outside his cabin window. He said they looked like fireflies. A shrink then asked "What did they say, John?"
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 20:53
  • There is a word for imagining a voice enunciating the words of a book as you read them — subvocalization. Of course one might merely think about hearing the words without any auditory experience, or he or she may manage to actually have a genuine auditory experience. Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 3:38

2 Answers 2


It's called subvocalization:

Subvocalization (also known as auditory reassurance) is a very common habit among readers. It involves saying words in your head while reading and it’s one of the main reasons why people read slowly and have trouble improving their reading speed.
Speed Reading Tips: 5 Ways to Minimize Subvocalization

  • 7
    Wait, there's people that DON'T do this?? How do you read something without hearing it in your head?
    – MCMastery
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 2:08
  • 2
    I also do this, and I read quite fast...
    – Graipher
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 7:25
  • 3
    @MCMastery That's tricky to describe. It's like... getting directly from the written word to its meaning, without the "hearing it" step? Much like thinking about something without "inner-describing it", I guess.
    – Quentin
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 9:15
  • 1
    I feel like I can "turn it off", so to speak. When I'm glancing the page looking for what I need I don't subvocalize anything, only when I find what I want to actually read does it start.
    – SGR
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 10:38
  • 2
    Also, I don't think sub-vocalize is the right word. Supposedly it means: "Utter (words or sounds) with the lips silently or with barely audible sound, especially when talking to oneself, memorizing something, or reading." This implies actually muttering silently to oneself, not just "hearing" words in your head. Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 16:01

Subvocalization is an excellent answer if you don't Actually Hear the words. If you DO hear the words, or perhaps feel them or smell them, the 'overlapping' of normal sensory input into non-ordinary perception (i.e. colors that have numeric value, etc) it's known as Synesthesia, and is far more common than those of us with it care to admit.

  • 1
    Excellent distinction! I forgot to point this out. In this post, I more meant that the subject is not experiencing sensations unfounded in reality. Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 21:47
  • I thought synesthesia is perception is of a completely different type than typically associated with the stimulus (e.g. you hear or read a number, and perceive a color). If you hear the same word that you're reading, is that really considered synesthesia?
    – Barmar
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 19:22
  • @Barmar: according to my psychologist, yes. It's a poorly understood largely undiscovered 'spectrum' type disorder, no two cases are exactly the same. In this case, merely 'seeing' the word, as opposed to 'reading' it is sufficient. If you have additional or other information I'd love to hear it ! :) (pun intended)
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 15:26
  • I glanced at the wikipedia article you linked to, and didn't notice anything like this, but I admit I didn't read it thoroughly. Can you copy specific quotes from the article that support your case?
    – Barmar
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 17:04

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.