I used to read a lot. I would get through at least one book every week. This was at a time when I was traveling a lot and I would fill up all those spare moments with a bit of reading. Hence, I got through lots of books, because travel is mostly about waiting for something to happen. In the last few years, I have traveled less, so I have not done so much reading, but I have given some thought to the process of extracting words from a book.
We do not generally think about reading. Once we have learned how to read at school, we just do it – almost like riding a bicycle. But there are aspects of the process that mystify me …
There are two ways of reading: out loud or to yourself. I guess there is an intermediate where you make no sound, but your lips move – this is really the same as out loud. I am not a fast reader, but, like everyone, I read much faster and with less effort when I am reading to myself. This may all seem very obvious, but please bear with me.
Before written languages were invented, all communication was oral. People remembered stories and related them to one another. I guess that poetry and other rhythmic styles were developed to aid the memory. When writing was invented, it would have been a means of recording what people would say aloud. My guess is that early written texts were always read out loud.
But, one day, somebody realised that it was possible to “read” some text without actually forming the words in their mouth – they probably did it accidentally. They could read more quickly and learn more. This was really quite a significant intellectual breakthrough. I have not done detailed research, but a brief investigation has not told me when this occurred. Of course it probably happened in different cultures at different times. I do feel that the discovery of “silent reading” is a great achievement that is largely unrecognized. I wonder if different parts of the brain get activated for the two “modes” of reading. If you know of any relevant research, please email me.
An interesting result is that, to really enjoy poetry, you do need to read it aloud – or make like you are. I find that, when I am writing a script, which will eventually be spoken, I can only do effective proof reading if I do it aloud. It feels like taking a step back.