Speech vs. Language

When you hear someone say “I’m a Speech-Language Pathologist” do you think, aren’t they being repetitive by saying both words: speech and language? I never really thought about the differences until recently.

Language is the primary medium of human communication.  It uses socially shared codes to represent concepts we want to convey to each other. These codes are arbitrary, acquired over time.  For example, what comes to mind when you hear the word “dog”?  We all have similar mental representations of this furry animal that walks on 4 legs and barks. But the word dog is not shaped like a dog, nor does it contain any descriptive properties of a dog like the ones just mentioned. These arbitrary codes such as “dog” that make up language help us get our point across pretty quickly.

Speech on the other hand is simply spoken language. It’s the way in which we transmit language to each other. Components that contribute to speech are articulation, fluency and voice. Articulation deals with how speech is formed and how we combine speech sounds to make words.  If each sound was produced one at a time we would sound like a robot (which would be extremely annoying to listen to). Every sound in a word influences the surrounding sounds. Fluency is the smooth flow of communication. Voice can reveal a lot about the person talking and about the message they are getting across. This includes elements such as pitch, stressed/unstressed syllables and loudness.

Speech-Language Pathologists can work with patients who have speech disorders or language disorders (these disorders are distinct things just as speech and language are). I’ll explain what some of those are in later posts. Stay tuned!

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    • Songyi on October 11, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Very interesting…it is eye-opening reading about something I do without really “thinking about it.”

      • Angela Polloni on October 11, 2013 at 6:25 pm

      Thanks Songyi! There are so many things we do as speakers of a language without even realizing it. I hope to reveal more of these things as the semester goes on. You really come to appreciate speech when you learn about everything that goes into it.

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