This is an exciting technological development by NASA: they’ve found a way to detect “subvocal” speech!
“A person using the subvocal system thinks of phrases and talks to himself so quietly it cannot be heard, but the tongue and vocal cords do receive speech signals from the brain,” said developer Chuck Jorgensen, of NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California.
Jorgensen’s team found that sensors under the chin and one each side of the Adam’s apple pick up the brain’s commands to the speech organs, allowing the subauditory, or “silent speech” to be captured.
I think the possibilities for this go well beyond what is described in the article. If voice recognition improves, it should be possible to write e-mails on your cell phone without having to speak aloud and disturb people around you. But, even more importantly, it could be very useful for educational researchers, especially those studying second language acquisition. I know of at least one study that found some effective second language learners repeat sentences to themselves very quietly — so quietly that nobody else can hear them. I imagine a lot could be learned about how students learn to read, etc.