It seems obvious that Terminators don't have vocal cords, and their speech is probably generated by some kind of speaker assembly linked to a speech processor. However, every time we see a Terminator speaking, it moves its mouth just like a human would. In most cases, this is presumably because they want to appear to be human, and speaking without moving your mouth is a rare talent and, if a Terminator did it, they would raise suspicion.

But there is at least one scene, in the first movie, where the Terminator is alone in his apartment, where no one can see him, and the landlord comes to the door and complains about a bad odor coming from the room. The Terminator replies in terms that I won't repeat on this family friendly site. The issue is that when the Terminator replies to the landlord, who - as I have said, can't see him - the Terminator's mouth moves.

Note: The dialogue in this clip is probably NSFW

If moving his mouth wasn't a necessary part of his speech process, he has no reason to do it in this scene. He doesn't need to keep up appearances when no one can see his face.

Humans speak by a combination of muscle movements: the diaphragm draws air in and forces it out of our lungs, after which it passes through the larynx, where the vocal cords shape the sound, and finally, the air passes out through our mouths, where our lips, and especially tongues, put the finishing touches on the sounds we are producing. But Terminators don't have lungs, larynxes, or vocal cords. So how do movements of the mouth and tongue affect their speech?

This raises the question of whether the bare metal Terminators (see picture below) can speak, and if so, whether their mouths move when they speak. They certainly don't have lips or tongues, so those can't play any part in the process.

enter image description here

So here's my question:

Is there any information about how Terminator speech works?

  • Is there any advantage to the Terminator speaking without moving his lips in that scene? Jul 7, 2015 at 3:05
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    Ignoring the answer cde gives, if there's no advantage to either option, then neither option can be considered unusual. In this case, he's simply speaking as he normally does. Jul 7, 2015 at 3:43
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    @Lèsemajesté - Not necessarily. Terminators are nothing if not efficient. However small the energy expenditure of moving its mouth might be, it is an unnecessary energy expenditure. And we have absolutely no reason to believe that mouth movements are the way a Terminator "normally" speaks. If the bare metal Terminators can speak, they presumably don't move their mouths, because it serves no practical purpose.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jul 7, 2015 at 3:51
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    Well, this unit is designed for infiltration, so presumably most of the time he's operating, he's intended to behave as human as possible simply as a baseline directive. If there is indeed an energy preservation advantage, then that would be an advantage to not using his lips, but given he's nuclear powered, I'm not sure I'm sold on that advantage. Jul 7, 2015 at 3:53
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    @Lèsemajesté - He is nuclear powered, but he can obviously lose his power source if he is injured (which actually happens later in the movie). Advanced machinery with sophisticated computer processors is designed to be efficient. Wasting energy, however insignificant the amount of energy loss is, is inefficient. The rest of your argument is compelling (i.e., that one of his mission parameters is to maintain the facade human-ness). However, this only applies to T2 and T3. We know very little about the first Terminator, and he is clearly different from the later models (e.g., he rots)
    – Wad Cheber
    Jul 7, 2015 at 4:17

3 Answers 3


Terminators were designed to pass for humans even under close inspection (security checks and so on) when infiltrating resistance cells. As such the logical answer to this would be that Terminators are designed with the same vocal capacity as humans.

As stated by the OP, our voices do not just come from the voice box. The larynx creates the sound but the shape of the mouth and the position of the tongue turn that sound into a recognisable word or tone. For example, one cannot make a "mmmmm" sound without closing one's lips. Likewise the "ssss" sound is made by blowing air through the teeth with the tongue flattened to the bottom of the mouth. If one tries to make a "sss" sound with the tongue against the back of the teeth, then a "th" sound is made. So the teeth, tongue and lips all contribute to the formation of language and have to be closely matched by Terminators.

So in order to mimic human appearance and be able to pass for human, the Terminators have a mouth and throat that are identical to humans. They also need to be able to pass air through that system, therefore they must have a working respiratory system that draws air down and passes it back up through the simulated vocal chords.

There's not a lot of sense in making a backup system for a primary system that works the same way that humans work, so the speech systems would likely be the only way that Terminators can "talk" to humans, although they may have a more technological way of speaking to other Terminators. Hence why, even when in a closed room, our "hero" Terminator has to move his mouth when responding to someone outside. It also matches the observation that no Terminator endoskeletons are seen to speak - they can't because they need their organic components to do so.

The T-1000 likely also has to recreate the speech systems using its own "liquid metal" to form the parts. This jars with the claim that the living metal can't form complex machines with moving parts, but since the speech systems (vocal cords, tongue, teeth, lips) aren't that complex, and are not separate from the main body, this should be possible. All it takes is programming and a template to work from...

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    A terminator does speak without organic components in Salvation, IIRC. But then all it would need is a speaker, since without organic components there's nothing to block the sound. Jul 7, 2015 at 13:02
  • one cannot make a "mmmmm" sound without closing one's lips... challenge accepted!
    – Daft
    Jul 7, 2015 at 14:03
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    As a programmer, I always laugh at movies putting in things in computers that are unnecessary. ie the laughing skull in Independence day virus. It takes a lot of effort to program a sequence that tells the terminator: switch to speaker when no one is watching. why would that sequence exist Jul 7, 2015 at 15:25
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    The T-1000 could mimic sounds by vibrating anything that caused the air to vibrate. People do not usually watch each others focal chords, as they are internal. If the T-1000 wanted to seem human in close proximity it could exhale at the same time, but would not have to use vocal chords. In theory other models would also not need vocal chords if they had a speaker, only a lung to pump air and the visible parts of the speech system. Standard troop models could have this for psychological impact on the battle field. Luring calls, pain cries, eary noises, etc. All an advantage.
    – TafT
    Jul 7, 2015 at 16:24

Quoting directly from James Cameron;

The 800 Series is also equipped with vocals which enable it to replicate any human speech pattern of which it has heard an adequate specimen. It does this by recording and storing syllables of the subjects' voices, which it then replays and uses to digitally synthesize their speech patterns.

The clear implication is that the terminator's speech is artificial (electronic) even though it mimics the outward appearance of facial movement.

  • AKA concatenation synthesis, which is what most advanced speech synthesis products these days use, e.g. Siri, Google Now, Cortana, etc. Though current technologies require dozens of hours of recording (e.g. the Siri voice actor spent around 80 hours recording). Jul 8, 2015 at 6:47
  • It could be posited that JC's comment could be applied to replication of another being's speech rather than the creation of its own. The T-800's speech patterns (i.e. Arnie's voice) are created by the model's own characteristic design. The voice can be changed by "digitally processing" the Terminator's own voice as it passes through the vocal system.
    – Selezen
    Jul 9, 2015 at 17:06
  • @Selezen - It's certainly possible but seems unlikely. If it can create other voices using digital speech, it seems most likely that it creates its own voice using the same technique.
    – Valorum
    Jul 9, 2015 at 17:33

It costs the Terminator nothing to mimic human speech mouth movements at all times. It does not know if there is cameras or someone it can't see watching. Real life spies, double agents and method actors keep up appearances even when noone is watching.

  • You addressed the reason I asked the question, but ignored the question itself. I asked how Terminator speech works.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jul 7, 2015 at 3:21
  • Well the T1000 creates a perfect duplicate of the human speech systems.
    – user16696
    Jul 7, 2015 at 3:33
  • That (plus some references about how it does this) should be the answer, and the stuff you posted as an answer should be a comment. I'd upvote that.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jul 7, 2015 at 3:36
  • That scene shows the T-800, which isn't a mimetic machine. So the 800 series' ability to replicate different human voices suggests that it's probably a synthetic speech system, which makes sense if you want the terminator to be able to speak properly even when its organic tissues are damaged/removed. Jul 7, 2015 at 4:01

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