Inner Speech

Photograph of Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934)

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Inner speech is a form of internalized, self-directed dialogue: talking to oneself. The phrase inner speech was used by Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky to describe a stage in language acquisition and the process of thought. In Vygotsky's conception, "Speech began as a social medium and became internalized as inner speech, that is, verbalized thought," (Katherine Nelson, Narratives From the Crib, 2006).

Inner Speech and Identity

"Dialogue launches language, the mind, but once it is launched we develop a new power, 'inner speech,' and it is this that is indispensable for our further development, our thinking. ... 'We are our language,' it is often said; but our real language, our real identity, lies in inner speech, in that ceaseless stream and generation of meaning that constitutes the individual mind. It is through inner speech that the child develops his own concepts and meanings; it is through inner speech that he achieves his own identity; it is through inner speech, finally, that he constructs his own world," (Oliver Sacks, Seeing Voices. University of California Press, 1989).

Is Inner Speech a Form of Speech or Thought?

"Difficult as it is to study inner speech, there have been attempts to describe it: it's said to be a shorthand version of real speech (as one researcher put it, a word in inner speech is 'the mere skin of a thought'), and it's very egocentric, not surprisingly, given that it's a monologue, with the speaker and the audience being the same person," (Jay Ingram, Talk Talk Talk: Decoding the Mysteries of Speech. Doubleday, 1992).

"Inner speech comprises both the inner voice we hear when reading and the muscle movements of the speech organs that often accompany reading and that are called subvocalizations," (Markus Bader, "Prosody and Reanalysis." Reanalysis in Sentence Processing, ed. by Janet Dean Fodor and Fernanda Ferreira. Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1998).

Vygotsky on Inner Speech

"Inner speech is not the interior aspect of external speech—it is a function in itself. It still remains speech, i.e., thought connected with words. But while in external speech thought is embodied in words, in inner speech words die as they bring forth thought. Inner speech is to a large extent thinking in pure meanings. It is a dynamic, shifting, unstable thing, fluttering between word and thought, the two more or less stable, more or less firmly delineated components of verbal thought," (Lev Vygotsky, Thought, and Language, 1934. MIT Press, 1962).

Linguistic Characteristics of Inner Speech

"Vygotsky identified a number of lexicogrammatical features which are foregrounded in both egocentric speech and inner speech. These features include omission of the subject, the foregrounding of predication, and a highly elliptical relationship between these forms and the speech situation (Vygotsky 1986 [1934]: 236)," (Paul Thibault, Agency and Consciousness in Discourse: Self-Other Dynamics as a Complex System. Continuum, 2006).

"In inner speech the only grammatical rule at play is association through juxtaposition. Like inner speech, film uses a concrete language in which sense comes not from deduction but from the fullness of the individual attractions as qualified by the image which they help to develop," (J. Dudley Andrew, The Major Film Theories: An Introduction. Oxford University Press, 1976).

Inner Speech and Writing

"Writing is part of the process of finding, developing, and articulating inner speech, that reservoir of internalized thought and language on which we depend for communication," (Gloria Gannaway, Transforming Mind: A Critical Cognitive Activity. Greenwood, 1994).

"Because it is a more deliberate act, writing engenders a different awareness of language use. Rivers (1987) related Vygotsky's discussion of inner speech and language production to writing as discovery: 'As the writer expands his inner speech, he becomes conscious of things [of] which he was not previously aware. In this way, he can write more than he realizes' (p. 104).

"Zebroski (1994) noted that Luria looked at the reciprocal nature of writing and inner speech and described the functional and structural features of written speech, which 'inevitably lead to a significant development of inner speech. Because it delays the direct appearance of speech connections, inhibits them, and increases requirements for the preliminary, internal preparation for the speech act, written speech produces a rich development for inner speech' (p. 166)," (William M. Reynolds and Gloria Miller, eds., Handbook of Psychology: Educational Psychology. John Wiley, 2003).

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Inner Speech." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Inner Speech. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Inner Speech." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).