speaker (language and literature)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

A speaker addressing an audience
A speaker addressing an audience (definition #2). Tetra Images/Getty Images

In linguistics and communication studies, a speaker is one who speaks: the producer of an utterance. In rhetoric, a speaker is an orator: one who delivers a speech or formal address to an audience. In literary studies, a speaker is a narrator: one who tells a story. 

Observations On Speakers

  • "The average adult English speaker has a vocabulary of around thirty thousand words and speaks ten to twelve sounds per second. Most of us in modern America, apart from the very solitary and the very garrulous, speak anywhere from 7,500 to 22,500 words a day. Grabbing these words, one every four hundred milliseconds on average, and arranging them in sequences that are edited and reviewed for grammar and appropriateness before they're spoken requires a symphony of neurons working quickly and precisely. Pronouncing (or signing) words in any language requires that your brain coordinate with your body in order to turn the electricity of nerve impulses into waves of sound (or, if you sign, of gesture and motion). So far, scientists have been able to draw only simple models of how the control of language toggles back and forth between the brain and the body."
    (Michael Erard, Um--Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean. Random House, 2008)
  • "Since native speakers of a language cannot have memorized each phrase or sentence of their language, given that the set of phrases and sentences is infinite, their linguistic knowledge cannot be characterized as a list of phrases or sentences. . . . If a list of phrases is insufficient, then how can we characterize the native speaker's linguistic knowledge? We will say that a speaker's linguistic knowledge can be characterized as a grammar consisting of a finite set of rules and principles that form the basis for the speaker's ability to produce and comprehend the unlimited number of phrases and sentences of the language."
    (Adrian Akmajian, et al., Linguistics: An Introduction to Language and Communication, 5th ed. MIT Press, 2001)
  • "We thus make a fundamental distinction between competence (the speaker-hearer's knowledge of his language) and performance (the actual use of language in concrete situations). . . . A record of natural speech will show numerous false starts, deviations from rules, changes of plan in mid-course, and so on. The problem for the linguist, as well as the child learning the language, is to determine from the data of performance the underlying system of rules that have been mastered by the speaker-hearer and that he puts to use in actual performance."
    (Noam Chomsky, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. MIT Press, 1965)

Pronunciation: SPEE-ker

From the Old English, "speak"