Speech in Linguistics

speech in linguistics
"Language lives on the tongue and in the ear; there it was born and there it grows" (Brander Matthews, Parts of Speech: Essays on English, 1901). (BDLM/Getty Images)

In linguistics, speech is a system of communication that uses spoken words (or sound symbols). 

The study of speech sounds (or spoken language) is the branch of linguistics known as phonetics. The study of sound changes in a language is phonology.
For a discussion of speeches in rhetoric and oratory, see Speech (Rhetoric).

Etymology: From the Old English, "to speak"

Studying Language Without Making Judgements

  • "Many people believe that written language is more prestigious than spoken language--its form is likely to be closer to Standard English, it dominates education and is used as the language of public administration. In linguistic terms, however, neither speech nor writing can be seen as superior. Linguists are more interested in observing and describing all forms of language in use than in making social and cultural judgements with no linguistic basis."
    (Sara Thorne, Mastering Advanced English Language, 2nd ed. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)

Speech Sounds and Duality

  • "The very simplest element of speech--and by 'speech' we shall henceforth mean the auditory system of speech symbolism, the flow of spoken words--is the individual sound, though, . . . the sound is not itself a simple structure but the resultant of a series of independent, yet closely correlated, adjustments in the organs of speech."
    (Edward Sapir, Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech, 1921)
  • "Human language is organized at two levels or layers simultaneously. This property is called duality (or 'double articulation'). In speech production, we have a physical level at which we can produce individual sounds, like n, b and i. As individual sounds, none of these discrete forms has any intrinsic meaning. In a particular combination such as bin, we have another level producing a meaning that is different from the meaning of the combination in nib. So, at one level, we have distinct sounds, and, at another level, we have distinct meanings. This duality of levels is, in fact, one of the most economical features of human language because, with a limited set of discrete sounds, we are capable of producing a very large number of sound combinations (e.g. words) which are distinct in meaning."
    (George Yule, The Study of Language, 3rd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Approaches to Speech

  • "Once we decide to begin an analysis of speech, we can approach it on various levels. At one level, speech is a matter of anatomy and physiology: we can study organs such as tongue and larynx in the production of speech. Taking another perspective, we can focus on the speech sounds produced by these organs--the units that we commonly try to identify by letters, such as a 'b-sound' or an 'm-sound.' But speech is also transmitted as sound waves, which means that we can also investigate the properties of the sound waves themselves. Taking yet another approach, the term 'sounds' is a reminder that speech is intended to be heard or perceived and that it is therefore possible to focus on the way in which a listener analyzes or processes a sound wave."
    (J. E. Clark and C. Yallop, An Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology. Wiley-Blackwell, 1995)

Parallel Transmission

  • "Because so much of our lives in a literate society has been spent dealing with speech recorded as letters and text in which spaces do separate letters and words, it can be extremely difficult to understand that spoken language simply does not have this characteristic. . . . [A]lthough we write, perceive, and (to a degree) cognitively process speech linearly--one sound followed by another--the actual sensory signal our ear encounters is not composed of discretely separated bits. This is an amazing aspect of our linguistic abilities, but on further thought one can see that it is a very useful one. The fact that speech can encode and transmit information about multiple linguistic events in parallel means that the speech signal is a very efficient and optimized way of encoding and sending information between individuals. This property of speech has been called parallel transmission."
    (Dani Byrd and Toben H. Mintz, Discovering Speech, Words, and Mind. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010)

Oliver Goldsmith on the True Nature of Speech

  • "It is usually said by grammarians, that the use of language is to express our wants and desires; but men who know the world hold, and I think with some show of reason, that he who best knows how to keep his necessities private is the most likely person to have them redressed; and that the true use of speech is not so much to express our wants, as to conceal them."
    (Oliver Goldsmith, "On the Use of Language." The Bee, October 20, 1759)

Pronunciation: SPEECH

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Speech in Linguistics." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/speech-linguistics-1692121. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Speech in Linguistics. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/speech-linguistics-1692121 Nordquist, Richard. "Speech in Linguistics." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/speech-linguistics-1692121 (accessed May 28, 2023).