To clarify the role of articulation in the parsing and retention of letter strings, 16 undergraduates undertook a tachistoscopic free-recall task involving 1st and 4th-order letter strings, with and without articulatory suppression and/or unattended speech (USP). USP interfered with recall, but only when Ss were free to articulate the strings. This implies that Ss were retrieving information from the phonological (PL) store and that articulation was necessary for the registration of visual information in this store. The lack of interaction between order-of-approximation and suppression supports the view that the scan-parse mechanism acts independently of articulation. It appears, therefore, that letter strings are parsed at a stage preceding their transfer to the PL store. Ss were able to draw directly on a representation of the parsed components of a letter string and may do so when PL storage is difficult.