Speech vs Language

Speech vs Language

Is there a difference between speech and language?


Yes, indeed there is!

Speech is the physical productions of sounds that make up what we say.  You can think of it as being made up of three parts…

  1. Articulation – the shaping of speech sounds, which depends on how we position and move our tongues, teeth, lips, etc.
  2. Fluency – the flow and rhythm of speech
  3. Voice – the vocal quality and breathing used to produce speech.  What is ‘normal’ for a voice depends upon the child’s age and gender.

Language is a set of rules that we use to create meaning in our speech.  Languages have rules for:

  1. Semantics (what words MEAN):  Ex – The word ‘fish’ can mean the floppy wet creature in the lake or the action of looking for something (‘fising for compliments,’ fishing through the bag).
  2. Phonology (how to SEQUENCE sounds to make words): Ex – The sounds ‘d’, ‘o’, ‘g’ tegehter and only in that order as ‘dog’ represent the little furry friend who greets you at the door every day.
  3. Morphology (how to MAKE NEW words): Ex -Adding ‘-able’ to ‘forget’ makes the new words, ‘forgettable.’ And adding ‘un-‘ to ‘forgettable’ creates ‘unforgettable’.
  4. Syntax (how to PUT words TOGETHER): Ex-‘I look up at the big blue bright sky’ follows our language’s rules for syntax, but ‘I up sky bright big at looked blue the’ does not.
  5. Pragmatics (what word combinations and behaviors are best depending on the SITUATION): Ex-You know that it’s appropriate to let your friend finish what he’s saying before you start talking again.

Language can also be broken down into two categories:

  1. Receptive language is how how you understand language, or what is being said to you.  Examples of receptive language activities include: following directions, identifying pictures, comprehension of questions, etc.
  2. Exrpessive language is how well you use language and adhere to your language’s rules in speech.  Examples of expressive language activities include: picture labeling, answering questions, spontaneous language sampling.

Language does not have to be verbal.  For instance, in sign langage, hand signs and different postures and facial expressions are used to nonverbally communicate.  Even children who have not yet begun to speak have language, communicating through conventional gestures such as pointing to an object of interest to indicate that they want it.

As you can see, speech and language are not one on the same.  Both can contribute significantly to communication, and breakdowns can occur in one or the other or both.

For more information on the differences between speech and language (and American Sign Language), check out the following links:

The blog post was written by guest blogger, Rachel Adler.  Rachel is currently a Graduate Student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences studying Speech-Language Pathology.

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