Speech and Language What's the Difference?

speech 10 tnThe difference between language and speech can be understood by considering the relationship between a computer program and an output device, like a printer. The software running on the computer (a word processing program, for example) is designed to allow a user to create content that is stored in the computer. In order to actually create a physical copy of the file, the computer requires another device: a printer. The printer takes the file and transforms it into a series of commands which control the movement of a print head, thereby making marks on paper.

This two-stage process is something like the distinction between language (computer program) and speech (printer). When we want to communicate something, the first stage is to encode the message into a set of words and sentence structures that convey our meaning. These processes are collectively what we refer to as language. In the second stage, language is translated into motor commands that control the articulators, thereby creating speech. Speech refers to the actual process of making sounds, using such organs and structures as the lungs, vocal cords, mouth, tongue, teeth, etc. (Wikipedia, 2012)

Language

Language is made up of socially shared rules that include the following:

  • What words mean (e.g., "star" can refer to a bright object in the night sky or a celebrity)
  • How to make new words (e.g., friend, friendly, unfriendly)
  • How to put words together (e.g., "Peg walked to the new store" rather than "Peg walk store new")
  • What word combinations are best in what situations ("Would you mind moving your foot?" could quickly change to "Get off my foot, please!" if the first request did not produce results)

Speech

Speech is the verbal means of communicating. Speech consists of the following:

  • Articulation: How speech sounds are made (e.g., children must learn how to produce the "r" sound in order to say "rabbit" instead of "wabbit").
  • Voice: Use of the vocal folds and breathing to produce sound (e.g., the voice can be abused from overuse or misuse and can lead to hoarseness or loss of voice).
  • Fluency: The rhythm of speech (e.g., hesitations or stuttering can affect fluency).

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