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As Language Log readers are undoubtedly aware, I am prey to mondegreens, earworms, and other imaginary auditory oddities.  Lately, the last half year or so, I've been occasionally subject to what, faute de mieux, I've taken to calling "autoarticulation", modeled after "autosuggestion".

It doesn't last very long, doesn't repeat on an endless loop, and is not very annoying, though it is a bit creepy.

Here's what happens.  A phrase — usually between about three and eight words — pops into my mind.  It comes out of nowhere.  It is completely irrelevant to anything that comes before or after it.  The phrase is articulated clearly in standard, neutral American English, without any accent.  I don't know if anyone else experiences this kind of phenomenon, but in my case, the voice is usually male, although once in a while it may be female.

What they say is not related to music in any way.  The content is bland and banal.  My clearest impression, which lasts only for a few seconds, is that what is said is pleasingly articulated:

"I was thinking the same thing too."

"Shall we go shopping together?"

"The swimming pool is large."

"My son might get a new car."

"She looks pretty today."

"That shouldn't be a problem."

"He gets up early."

What is spoken is not in the context of a dialog or conversation.  It exists all by itself.  The emphasis is on the elocution, but not with rhetorical flourishes, just simply on clear expression.

In my case, such autoarticulation usually only takes place two or three times per week.  It is almost always in English, but once in a while I'll hear it in some other language.


Selected readings


  1. Kent McKeever said,

    October 13, 2023 @ 8:50 am

    I don't hear unanticipated phrases, but…. My bugbear is that puns appear out of the ether, and then haunt me until I can tell them to someone. In thinking about one of my doctors, I was recently struck by the thought that an endocrinologist dealing with young patients might be a "beginningcrinologist" and it hovered with me for hours.

  2. Jerry Packard said,

    October 13, 2023 @ 10:41 am

    Hearing unelicited voices in its more extreme form of course is a symptom of schizophrenia, but in its more benign form is fairly common. I experience it in transiting to sleep. A related experience of mine is that at any given moment I have a song playing in my head – all I have to do is ‘look’ and there it is. Sometimes it’s just a song I heard in my recent environment, but more often it’s a song that I have no idea how it got there.

  3. John Chew said,

    October 13, 2023 @ 11:13 am

    As a person who enjoys total aphantasia, what I find most puzzling about the 98% of the population who lack aphantasia is how you distinguish between between benign internal auditory memories/experiences and mental illness. When my late mother began to suffer from vascular dementia, she would get angry with us for not answering voices that only she could hear, and her doctor exhibited appropriate concern for her mental health. My wife, on the other hand, can easily evoke music and voices that only she can hear, and sometimes they arise spontaneously; she has not yet been able to provide a clear explanation to me as to how her situation differs. :)

    If it's something that is new to you though, you should definitely speak to your family doctor and discuss a referral to a neurologist.

  4. Haamu said,

    October 13, 2023 @ 11:46 am

    Among the hypotheses, I think you must consider that you might be tapping into the multiverse and hearing snippets of actual conversations that are simultaneously occurring in alternative realities.

  5. MWarhol said,

    October 13, 2023 @ 12:33 pm

    They look to me like the stilted, unnatural, and mostly useless phrases you might see in an introductory text for learning a foreign language. Something like Monty Python's "My hovercraft is full of eels." You could call them "hovercrafts".

  6. Victor Mair said,

    October 13, 2023 @ 5:43 pm


    That's a great suggestion!

    Those kinds of sentences are probably in my brain because that's how I learned so many languages.

  7. Nhan Hong said,

    October 13, 2023 @ 8:54 pm

    I have what called tinnitus, my case hearing incessant chirps of crickets. At first I'd thought that it was real crickets because I lived then in an orchard full of cricket chirps daytime and katydids' at night. I didn't give it any care….Until I started doing Vipassana meditation, I realized that noise was real stuff from me myself within….and it distracted me…
    Later, I read The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle, then it was clear to me that almost everybody hears some kind of voice in his/her head like that, until one gets rid of it one can hardly find inner peace…and what called Enlightenment is just the keeping of the mind out of the inner voice while in fully awareness of one's Presence.

  8. Chas Belov said,

    October 13, 2023 @ 10:00 pm

    I get frequent earworms, often set off by passing a street sign or remembering a fragment of a conversation. I probably do occasionally hear phrases as you describe, but not so frequent as you report.

  9. Peter Grubtal said,

    October 14, 2023 @ 1:21 am

    Yes, inspired by MWarhol and your reply I'd guess you use Duolingo a bit.

  10. Trogluddite said,

    October 14, 2023 @ 6:27 am

    Vivid hallucinations which are "irrelevant", "bland and banal", occurring while the subject is lucid, and which are unambiguously perceived as imaginary, may be "release hallucinations". These happen when brain regions responsible for sensory processing activate spuriously due to lack of stimulation. The visual form of this is common in people who are losing their sight (when it is called Charles Bonnet Syndrome) or hearing (e.g. Musical Ear Syndrome).

    The books and videos of late neurologist Oliver Sacks are well worth seeking out if you're interested in learning more about these phenomena. Besides his medical understanding of them, he shares many insights into the psychology of living with hallucinations and the unnecessary amateur pathologising and social stigma which can, sadly, result from admitting to them.

    Very rarely I may hallucinate voices; often calling my name, yet otherwise unfamiliar. More often, I hear snippets of commonplace everyday sounds. These do occasionally fool me into thinking they're real – which can be rather annoying when I "hear" my phone ringtone or a kettle boilng which I never turned on!

  11. Victor Mair said,

    October 14, 2023 @ 8:12 am

    @Nhan Hong:

    As someone who has continuously suffered from severe tinnitus since January, 1968 (I could tell you the terrible story of the horrific explosion that caused me to get it), I am grateful to you for helping to put my affliction in perspective.

    Occasionally I do hear chirps and chirrups like you, but mostly what I hear 24-7 is the loud, high-pitched, piercing, shrill, shrieking of a tea kettle going full blast (water boiling on high).

  12. Not Evelyn said,

    October 14, 2023 @ 9:29 am

    When I take any (medically prescribed) opiates, I often experience transitory hallucinations involving weird emotions such as paranoia. So while I am having those hallucinations, I tend not to tell my doctors about them (out of that imaginary paranoia).

    Weird, huh?

  13. bks said,

    October 14, 2023 @ 12:16 pm

    But always in English, Professor?

  14. W said,

    October 14, 2023 @ 1:10 pm

    Laurie Anderson – Language Is A Virus (From Outer Space)

  15. Victor Mair said,

    October 14, 2023 @ 7:17 pm

    Groovy Laurie Anderson song!

  16. Victor Mair said,

    October 14, 2023 @ 7:33 pm


    By no means only in English. Also in Nepali, auf Deutsch, en Francais, Nihongo de 日本語で, yòng Zhōngwén 用中文, на русском языке

  17. Victor Mair said,

    October 15, 2023 @ 10:07 am

    From a Greek friend:

    From childhood I too have often heard a voice in French, sometimes telling me what to do in certain situations. just like the daemon, of Plato, but very clear like whispering in my ear. A clear voice happening in 2 cases exactly:

    1—> do this, and don't do that (don't turn right, stop, don't go there, be careful of that person, go there to find that, go now, etc.)

    2 —> telling me a situation that will happen beforehand

    Numerous examples, but once I was in front of my grandpa's farm in Switzerland and two young people were approaching from afar:
    I asked my grandpa after hearing that voice: -Would you say yes if they ask you to sleep in the stable?

    And sure enough when they reached us, they asked:-can we sleep in the stable?

    Others are realistic dreams in black and white when people I know pass away or another event will happen. And for my researches, not a voice but similar type questioning in my mind drives me in one direction i to do these investigations and to look that way.

    Actually, that voice is most likely ruling intelligently but it's not coming from my calculated logic mind, I think something above.

  18. Cervantes said,

    October 18, 2023 @ 6:42 am

    "Hearing voices is more common than you might think, said Pavo Orepic, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Geneva and an author of the new paper. In surveys, scientists have discovered that many people without a psychiatric diagnosis — perhaps 5 to 10 percent of the general population — report having heard a disembodied voice at some point in their lives."

  19. Peter Lund said,

    October 18, 2023 @ 2:31 pm

    I've never heard voices but I've heard music many times when I have stayed up all night. It's like having a CD player in my head that can play song as long as I know it well enough. I can't stop the player but I can skip to another song. Sometimes it stops of its own accord. It's very clear that sound is inside my head.

    I do occasionally have really mild tinnitus: a sine wave in one ear or the other (or sometimes it starts in one and then it starts in the other a bit later). It lasts something like 30 seconds to a few minutes and happens maybe every few months. I haven't bothered to figure out what the frequency is. There is no discomfort and there doesn't seem to be any connection with sleep, food, mood, or anything else.

  20. Peter Grubtal said,

    October 19, 2023 @ 3:15 am


    What used to be legendary in England was

    "the left-hand postilion has been struck by lightning"

    – supposedly in an English-French phrasebook from time ago.

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