Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior Volume 19 Issue 5 1980 [Doi 10.1016%2Fs0022-5371%2880%2990628-3] Maria L. Slowiaczek; Charles Clifton Jr. -- Subvocalization and Reading for Meaning

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  JOURNAL OF VERBAL LEARNING AND VERBAL BEHAVIOR 19, 573--582 (1980) Subvocalization and Reading for eaning MARIA L SLOWIACZEK AND CHARLES CLIFTON, JR. University of assachusetts Two experiments demonstrated that subvocalization is of value in reading for certain types of meaning. Blocking subvocalization by requiring subjects to count or say cola- colacola... aloud impaired their reading comprehension but generally not their listening comprehension. The effect of blocking subvocalization was found to be specific to tests that required integration of concepts within or across sentences, as contrasted with tests that required only memory of individual word concepts. Two hypotheses were offered: first, that subvocalization results in a more durable memory representation needed for integration of concepts; and second, that subvocalization enables a prosodic restructuring that makes infor- mation needed for sentence comprehension accessible. The subjective experience of hearing a voice inside one s head while reading seems nearly universal. This inner voice is com- monly accompanied by activity of the larynx and the articulators (McGuigan, 1970). Early researchers used innovative methods to prevent this covert articulation in the hopes of discovering its function. Subjects were asked to sing, whistle, count, and talk while reading to prevent sub- vocalization (Pintner, 1913; Reed, 1916; Secor, 1900). Despite these creative efforts, the function of subvocal speech in reading remains a puzzle. One possible function involves lexical access. Perhaps strings of printed letters are translated to sounds before they are recognized as words. Although there is still some dispute over the importance of such sound translations (cf. Coltheart, 1979), we This research followed up experiments presented in a Masters thesis by the first author. She would like to thank her committee chairman, Arnold Well, and the other members of her committee for their advice and assistance. The authors thank Betty Ann Levy for providing the materials used in her experiments, Dawn Piccolomini and Janet Doherty for preparing materials and running subjects, and Rachel Clifton, Alexander Pollatsek, and Keith Rayner for their comments on an earlier version of this paper. Requests for reprints should be sent to Maria L. Slowiaczek, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass. 01003. 573 know that direct visual access must be pos- sible since we can distinguish between homophones and recognize words with ir- regular spellings. Also, lexical access through sound translation must be possible since we can recognize words we have heard but never seen before by sounding them out. Even though we can use both ac- cess routes, the bulk of the evidence indi- cates that the direct visual route is generally faster and therefore relied on more often. A second possible function for sub- vocalization involves the comprehension of entire phrases and sentences. Once words are recognized, further syntactic and semantic processing is necessary in order to understand the meaning of a sentence. Subvocalization may play some role in in- tegrating words into syntactic relations, or in providing a representation that facilitates semantic integration. One possibility is that recoding a sentence by subvocalization facilitates keeping it in memory. This hy- pothesis is supported by research which in- dicates that visually presented materials are commonly held in a phonological repre- sentation (Conrad, 1972). Kleiman (1975) found that a digit shadowing task, assumed to block subvocalization, interfered with judging the acceptability of sentences which subjects read. He suggested that sentence acceptability judgments require a 0022-5371/80/050573-10502.00/0  574 SLOWI CZEK ND CLIFTON subject to maintain a sentence in memory, and that preventing speech recoding im- pairs memory for a sentence. Further evidence for this memory hy- pothesis has been provided in a series of experiments on reading stories while sup- pressing subvocalization (Levy, 1977, 1978). Levy (1977) used counting out loud as a technique to suppress subvocalization. She found that suppressing subvocalization interfered when subjects were asked to rec- ognize sentences which they had read, but had no effect on recognition of sentences which they had heard. In a further study, Levy (1978) found that subjects could read stories and make paraphrase judgments without interference from speech suppres- sion, but when they were required to rec- ognize verbatim sentences, counting sup- pression did interfere. Levy concluded that reading for meaning was possible without subvocalization, and that the purpose of subvocalization was to translate visual in- formation into a speech code in order to maintain it in verbal form. Although Levy found accurate under- standing of simple sentences even when subvocalization was suppressed, her results do not provide conclusive evidence that subvocalization is unnecessary for com- prehension. Hardyck and Petrinovich (1970) found that reading comprehension of difficult, but not easy, passages was im- paired when they suppressed subvocaliza- tion using biofeedback from monitoring of laryngeal activity. Levy's reading task may be classified as very simple, since para- phrase judgments could be made by knowing the meanings of the individual words alone. Her distractor tests introduced new, semantically novel, words; for example, the story sentence The stronger team beat the weak opponents was tested with the dis- tractor The stronger team cheered the weak amateurs, where neither cheered nor amateurs nor any synonym of them appeared in the story. Sentence compre- hension normally involves more extensive processing, where grammatical relations in a sentence provide critical information for understanding. Perhaps subvocalization is necessary when these higher level pro- cesses are needed for comprehension. In two experiments, Slowiaczek (Note 1) replicated Levy's (1978) experiment and obtained results consistent with hers: Sup- pressing subvocalization interfered more with verbatim recognition judgments than with meaning judgments. In these experi- ments, correct test sentences were con- structed by substituting synonyms in story sentences, while their distractor tests intro- duced semantically novel words. In a third experiment, Slowiaczek (Note 1) studied meaning judgments in a task where some distractor items did not introduce novel words, but rather replaced one character or event in the test sentence with another character or event from the story. Suppress- ing subvocal speech hurt performance sub- stantially in this more difficult reading task. The experiments we report here further investigate the finding that blocking sub- vocalization can interfere with reading for meaning. They focus on the hypothesis that subvocalization is not needed to identify the concepts mentioned in a passage, but rather it s used to combine concepts in the proper semantic relationships with each other. In Experiment ~1, we compared per- formance on test items which simply re- quired recognition of lexical concepts (noun paraphrase and verb paraphrase tests) with performance on test items that required combining concepts within and across sen- tences (crossover and inference tests). We introduced a control for nonspecific inter- ference by including conditions in which subjects heard, rather than read, the pas- sages. We assumed that subvocalization is not necessary for successful listening com- prehension (cf. Levy, 1977), but that other sources of comprehension difficulty are similar for reading and listening. Under this assumption, the integration hypothesis pre- dicts that suppressing subvocalization will disrupt reading comprehension more than listening comprehension for inference and  SUBVOCALIZATION AND READING 7 crossover tests, but not for paraphrase tests. EXPERIMENT 1 Method Subjects Sixty-four undergraduate vol- unteers served as subjects for experimental course credit. Materials Seventy-two stories of seven sentences plus a title were constructed. An example of a story with test sentences is presented in Table 1. Each story contained at least three distinct characters which were used in constructing different types of test sentences. Four types of test sentences were used: paraphrase noun, paraphrase verb, crossover, and inference. A correct and distractor sentence was constructed for each test type. The correct paraphrase noun tests were story sentences with one noun replaced by a synonym (e.g., in- structor replaced teacher ). The para- phrase noun distractors had the noun re- placed by another noun which had a differ- ent meaning and did not appear anywhere else in the story. Paraphrase verb tests were constructed similarly, except that a verb in the sentence was replaced by a near-synonym or by another verb which had a different meaning and had not ap- peared elsewhere in the story. Subjects should be able to reject both noun and verb paraphrase distractors on the basis of their novel lexical content, even under condi- tions of speech suppression. However, we analyzed paraphrase noun and verb test items separately because verbs, which typically express relations among nominal concepts, might still be sensitive to the ef- fects of suppression. The remaining two types of test items re- quired subjects to combine concepts from the story. Crossover sentences tested com- prehension of the relations expressed in in- dividual story sentences. The correct cross- over tests were identical to sentences which appeared in the stories. The distractor crossovers replaced one noun with an- other noun which had appeared elsewhere in the story, but which had a different refer- ence. For example, one story sentence stated The high school teacher cheered the sad children, while a distinct sentence stated The older students had come to see this performance. The former sentence was presented as the correct crossover test, TABLE 1 EXAMPLE OF MATERIALS USED IN EXPERIMENT 1 Story A Ruined Excursion The rainy day ruined the planned festival. The painted clown packed up her costume. An amateur juggler was the high school teacher. The older students had come to see his performance. The high school teacher cheered the sad children. The festive occasion could be rescheduled. For now the picnic would be held inside. Paraphrase yes Paraphrase no Paraphrase verb yes Paraphrase verb no Crossover yes Crossover no Inference yes Inference no Tests The high school instructor cheered the sad children. The high school nurse cheered the sad children. The high school teacher amused the sad children. The high school teacher scolded the sad children. The high school teacher cheered the sad children. The older students cheered the sad children. An amateur juggler cheered the sad children. The painted clown cheered the sad children.   76 SLOWl CZEK ND CLIFTON while the sentence The older children cheered the sad children was presented as the crossover distractor. Inference test sentences combined information from two sentences that had occurred in the story, separated by at least one intervening sen- tence. To continue our example, the story contained a third sentence that established two alternative ways of referring to one character, The amateur juggler was a high school teacher. The correct inference test sentence combined this sentence with the earlier sentence, resulting in The amateur juggler cheered the sad children. Dis- tractor inference tests made the wrong inference by referring to a different char- acter in the story: The painted clown cheered the sad children. Notice that in- ference distractor tests were not con- tradicted by a single story sentence, while the crossover distractor tests were. (The high school teacher could have been the painted clown, but the high school teacher could not have been the older children.) Thus comprehension of inference test sen- tences required combining concepts across two sentences, while comprehending cross- over tests required combining concepts within a single sentence. Design and procedure Thirty-two sub- jects read the stories and thirty-two sub- jects listened to them over headphones. Sixteen of the subjects in the reading con- dition wore headphones to control for the muffling effect of the headphones on the sound of counting. Stories were presented in the same random order for all subjects in both reading and listening conditions, but the type of test item was counterbalanced across subjects. Half of the stories were presented while subjects were counting and half were presented while subjects were si- lent and free to subvocalize. All test types were presented equally often for each story in both silent and counting conditions, for both listening and reading. Each subject was presented with an equal number of each test type in silent and counting condi- tions. The stories were presented in nine blocks of eight passages each. One test sentence was presented after each story with an equal number of each test type in each block. The first block was for practice and was not included in the data analysis. Blocks alternated between silent and counting conditions and subjects were told at the beginning of each block whether or not they should count. In the silent reading condition, subjects read silently to themselves. In the suppressed reading condition, they counted out loud from 1 to 10 repeatedly as they read. They were encouraged to count at a very rapid rate as loudly as they could. The count- ing was monitored over an intercom system to insure that the fast rate was maintained. Most subjects were able to count from 1 to 10 twice between the onset of one sentence and the onset of the next. The sentences were presented on a Hewlett-Packard 2600A video terminal. Each sentence remained on the screen for 2 seconds, with an interval of approximately 670 milliseconds (including some 170 mil- liseconds to write the next sentence on the video screen and then move it into a win- dow through which the subject could see the screen) between sentences. The screen was 2 feet away from the subject and sen- tences were written in block letters 2.5 by 6 mm. At the end of each story, the word Test appeared on the screen for 1 second before the test item was presented. For the listening condition, stories and tests were prerecorded and presented on two computer-controlled tape recorders at the rate of one sentence every 2 seconds. The word Test appeared visually on the video screen for 1 second after each story before the auditory test sentence was pre- sented. For both reading and listening condi- tions, subjects were instructed to stop counting on the suppressed blocks when the word Test appeared. Subjects were told to respond yes by pushing one but- ton if the sentence was true based on what they read or heard in the story, and to re- spond no by pushing another button.
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