Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 3 : 12 December 2003

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.




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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai

A Critical Evaluation
Shyamala Chengappa, Ph.D.

1. Inter-relationship between Speech and Language

In the following sections, the inter-relationship of speech and language are debated. The issues pertaining to both the interdependence and independence of speech and language either in normal or disordered condition are considered. It is felt that, although the existence of non-verbal language is undisputable, when one is dealing with verbal mode, it is extremely difficult to dissociate speech and language aspects. Phonology is offered as the crucial go between. It is observed that a pure speech disorder or a pure language disorder are practical non-entities and that only the extent or degree of involvement of the respective processes that are in dispute in either case. Alternative terminologies are offered.

2. Speech versus Language Disorder

The evaluation of the relationship of speech to language or vice versa (normal or disordered) necessitates an appraisal of the conceptual relations of speech and language prevalent in the literature. A general survey of the views and ideas pertaining to the same are presented below. References are cited only where they are felt necessary. Otherwise, the views reflect the general trend.


Speech is viewed in several ways: speaking is a biological process requiring four primary functions such as respiration, phonation, resonance and articulation (Skinner and Shelton 1978).

  • Speech is a process that can be sub-categorized as those of language and those of speaking (Perkins 1971).
  • Speech is the process or result of producing a continuum of meaningful sounds in a language.
  • Is a manifestation of human language
  • Is communication through conventional and oral symbols
  • Is oral and is the observable process of language
  • Is including covert thinking processes of language and overt phonetic processes of speaking
  • Is spoken language as opposed to language of gesture or writing
  • Involves processes of encoding a linguistic message by producing coded sound patterns which carry meaning
  • Speech is a human behaviour into words serve both as a substitute stimuli to evoke responses and also substitute responses (Black & Moore 1955)
  • Speech is a medium that employs an oral linguistic code
  • Speech is a vocal - auditory linguistic code.


Language on similar lines, has been defined variously and most of these views, one could see many are analogous to those of speech. Language is viewed:

  • As any means vocal or other, of expressing and understanding thoughts, ideas or feelings.
  • As a system of communication among human beings of a certain group or community using symbols possessing arbitrary conventional meanings.
  • As a manifestation of speech (Cutting and Kavanagh 1975).
  • As the communication of ideas by words.
  • As an arbitrary system of symbols used for human communication.
  • As the application of meaning to words and other symbols based on ones experiences, the act of expressing self though a motor act and through clear sequential verbal thought patterns.
  • As a structured system of arbitrary vocal sounds and sequences of sounds which is used in interpersonal communication and which rather exhaustively catalogues the thing, events and processes of human experience.
  • As the system or code that speaker learned to use including sounds, words and grammatical patterns.
  • As a system of communication by sound i.e., though organs of speech and hearing, among human beings of a certain group or community using symbol possessing arbitrary, conventional meanings.
  • As a system of arbitrary conventional symbols that are primarily vocal, other secondary codes such as writing may be complementary to the vocal system.
  • Normal language is viewed as the oral and verbal expression of language appropriate to environment of the speaker and listener.
  • Expressive language is any method of communicating by using words verbally, by writing or by using gestures that describe or indicate a quality, a function or relationship.
  • Expressive language is an event observable expression though writing or gesture, speech the main encoding process.
  • The system inherent in a language derives essentially and primarily from the sequence of articulated, heard sounds in spoken utterances or messages activities.
  • A general norm of human speech activities or human sign one can see that literatures does not distinguish with clearing between the usage of terms of speech and language.
  • Language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and descends by means of a system of voluntarily produced symbols which are auditory and produced by the organs of speech (Sapir, 1921).
  • It is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by which thought is conveyed from one his being to the other.

3. Diverse Opinions

An overview of the description of speech and language reveal the wide diversity of opinions, along however the same, broader conceptualization of the `speech to language' continuum. Peng (1981) even makes a distinction between two concepts language and "languages". The former refers to an abstract generalization of the important traits of all languages and the latter to real and concrete individual languages of the world, each with its native speaker. We are concerned with both the conceptualizations that are relevant to point of our discussion. Peng (1981) also makes a distinction between `rigid' and `flexible' view of language. Under the rigid view, would come the oral and sign languages and under the flexible category, all practical communication in the world including both human and non human communication systems such as Braille and dance of bees respectively.

To our concern, the latter view is defunct and the former highly relevant considering, human communication is our primary concern and specifically the oral language, we equivocally find that the majority of the definitions agree the language symbols are primarily vocal. There however, can be others modes of communication such as the signs of writing etc. And there is no dispute whatsoever in this regard. But the most common and normal mode of human communication is verbal and this relation leads to the symonymity of concepts of speech and language. Infact, some views about speech and language are interchangeable largely.

Considering these evidence it becomes a controversial matter of opinion as to decide whether speech is inherent in language or language in speech and it is difficult to establish the cause and the effect relationship, if one hopes to do so. This leads the channel of discussion to the theoretical dichotomies that underlie linguistic works and a perusal of these concepts is warranted here.

4. Langue and Parole

This is the dichotomy conceptualized by Sassaure. According to him language is said to have two facets. Langue and parole, langue refers to the system of language which is passed on from generation to generation. This deals with grammar, syntax and vocabulary, `parole' refers to all that which a speaker might say or understand. Langue is the convention where as parole is the idiosyncratic speech; langue is the code and parole the message in a given situation. Langue is the norm of human speech activities and parole is the individualized speech activities. The former is abstract and the latter highly concrete and practical. It is the parole that the nervous system recognizes and it is the window through which the norm could be visualized. Hence the point of study would be parole, and here, speech becomes point of departing in the study of language behaviour.

5. Competence and Performance

This is a distinction originated by Chomsky (1965) competence refers to the ability all native speakers of being able to understand and produce sentences which they have never heard earlier. Performance refers to the realization of this ability in actual situations and relates to the linguistic utterances themselves. Competence therefore can be compared to the language which is the code which underlies all utterances in a given language and performance refers to the actualization of this code. In transformational-generative grammar, features of competence are represented in the deep structures exhibited by the syntactic component of the grammar while performance is represented in the surface structure produced by the phonological component of the grammar.

There two are the basic linguistic skills. Comprehension of language refers to the ability to understand a given expression. The modalities may be auditory (through listening) when it is the aural comprehension, reading, and understanding the written material that is termed "visual comprehension". Expression refers to the production of language. The production is though two modalities speaking and writing. Speaking is said to be basic language skill of expression and writing, the secondary skill w is completions to oral mode.

From the previous discussions it could summarized that speech production is analogous to parole and speech understanding is analogous to langue; competence to comprehension performance to expression. If it follows that language and parole, competence, performance, comprehension, and expression are inherent in the language concepts, one assumes and rightly, so that these are heavily related and interdependent issues. Naturally, it follows that speech and language are closely entangled and difficult to uncoil.

6. The Interdependence of Speech Versus Language in the Disordered State

At a cursory glance, one could identify speech as being a part of the larger whole, that is language. But if one starts dissociating the two, by identifying speech and language as separate entities and as being mutually independent, one encounters problems of establishing the realities of speech being independent of language and language being prersent independently of whether it is normal or disordered speech. Cutting and Kavanagh (1975) list several contenders for the concept of language without speech, although these are highly controversial issues:

  1. Sign language of the deaf particularly American sign language
  2. Congenital anarthria
  3. The case of language teaching to the chimpanzees whereby speech is not learnt but American Sign Language is.

This latter most citation is the most controversial one and the second condition is very rarely found in the clinic population. One does not dispute the presence language without speech but the concept of speech without language involvement appears us, an almost a non-entity. The presence of speech without language is again exemplified by several interesting and controversial issues.

  1. The early infantile babbling that is contrived as being non-linguistic.
  2. Expressive aphasia in its extreme form where speech with good rhythm and intonation patterns but having no apparent meaning.
  3. The speaking in tongues phenomenon i.e. the glossolalia (associated with pente costal chenches) having no identifiable underlying linguistic structures.
  4. Songs popular for their melodic patterns and with no apparent linguistic contents, which are actually sounds without meaning.

These citations by Cutting and Kavanagh (1975), as they point out themselves, have met with several controversies, and, therefore, inconclusive. The first content is only one of the two major existing schools of thought. Expressive jargon even at its best and extreme involves a competence or receptive disorder and it is only the predominant identifying feature that is being noted in such cases glossolalia is again a case of language expression not understood by the listener and does not necessitate the absence of linguistic rules. Songs and poetries may really be condition where prosodic and melodic patterns are emphasized rather than the linguistic content. And even these are identified to possess phonological rules of their respective languages.

7. Content, Form, and Function

To us, language cannot be described without considering its three important aspects, content, form, and function as is the modern trend (Bloom and Lahey, 1978). Content is the meaning, phonological, lexical and syntactic aspects of language use communication is the main function of human language. The most usual form of human language is auditory-vocal and therefore it we recognize that language is a prerequisite for meaningful speech and speech is the human language realization.

8. Disorder as the Evidence

The previous discussions hint at several possibilities with respect to the relationship between speech disorder and language disorders.

  1. There may be an exclusive speech order without involving language. Example: A voice disorder.
  2. There may be a speech disorder that involves also language. Example: Stuttering.
  3. There may be a language disorder without involving speech. Example: Schizophasia.
  4. There might be a language disorder which also involves speech. Example: Aphasia, apraxia of speech.

In practicality, such demarcations may not be feasible since any speech problem due to faulty functioning of the speech mechanism, would affect language realization by phonological means. To the extent atleast that, this problem would hinder the phonetic realization and therefore phonology, language is also affected.

9. Phonology as the Link

Phonology probably plays a most crucial role in establishing the interrelationship of speech and language. It become clear, when speech is considered to be a phonetic realization of linguistic rules and that speech manifestation is mainly through phonology. Phonology is one of the components of language. Moreover, some phonological variations or nuances form the basis of some specific syntactic and grammatical interpretations morphology affixation morphophonemic rules, or case affix realizations.

Another illustration of phonological nuances would be language situations where phonological information is required to correctly interpret such as stress or intonation variation on a specific word phrases or words. If the speech disorder involves also a disorder of language the individual is expected not to be able to use this phonological in formulation for the correct interpretation of the semantic nuances.

One could argue also that while the distributional patterns of individual phonemes, contrast between individual phonemes and even the allophonic patterns of single phonemes could be mainly falling within the speech disorder, the distributional patterns between different phonemes falling with sandhi rules and the like and use of phonological variables for interpretation at levels could be considered as reflex ting the involvement of language in the disorder (Thirumalai 1984).

The motor speech act involves four physiological processes of respiration, phonation, articulation and resonance. Any disorder or defect at any of these process may lead to a phonation disorder or articulatory disorder, or resonance disorder. The consequent effect will however be on the speech of an individual that is in all these, ultimately, the phonological realizations of language are affected, thus render it a language disorder.

The pathology in the above cases however would be peripheral and not central disorder. We do not dispute the presence of language albeit vocal mode of communication such as the ASL but the concept of speech without language involvement. However, disputable is the degree is a definite non-entity. As long as phonology is embedded in language as one of its major components, speech stands enmeshed with language. By the point of view of acquisition by humans acquisition of speech is also the acquisition.

Moreover, while speech stays a chief and the most common by, normally found mode of communication it becomes almost impossible to diffract between speech and language (when language symbols are basically vocal) or even speech disorders and language disorders. When once there is a deviation at one level of speech it reflects a disorder at the language level that is with the degree negotiable. One could have however, a language disorder of superficial type (which denotes the "speech disorder" as against language disorder in the presently prevalent terminology) or of the deeper type. The dichotomies of central and peripheral language disorders would also justify such a connotation. Illustrating the superficial language disorder and aphasia as caused by cardiovascular accident could be illustrating a deeper central language disorder. In between there could be several gradations each illustrated by several speech-language disorders.


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Bloom, L and Lahey, M. (1978). Language development and language disorders.

Chengappa, Shyamala (1986). Speech disorders in children: an introduction. EIE-IED Cell, Port Blair.

Choosey (1965). Verbal behaviour in aspects of theory of syntax. MIT Press, Massachussetts, Cambridge.

Cutting, J. E. & Kavanagh, J. F. (1975). On the relationship of speech to language, ASHA vol. 17, No.8, pp 500-506.

Carrow-Woolfalk, E- and Lynch, J. I. (1982). An integrative approach to language disorders in children, Harcourt Brace, Jovonovich, NewYork.

De Saussure, F. ( ). Course in general linguistics, Philosophical Library, NewYork.

Peng, C. C. (1981). Current issues in neurolinguistics. A Japanese contribution, language function and it normal mechanisms: Advances in neurolinguistics, Proceeding of the second I C U conference on neurolinguistics. International Christian university Language Sciences Summer institute, Mitaka, Tokyo.

Perkins, H. W. (1971). Speech pathology, an applied behavioural science, the C. V. Mosby company, St. Louis.

Sapir, E. J. (1921). Language: An introduction to the study of speech. Harcourt, Brace and World, NewYork.

Skinner, P. H. and Shelton, R. L. (1978). Speech, language and hearing: normal processes and disorders. Addison Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, Massachussetts.

Thirumalai, M. S. (1986). Personal communication.

Thirumalai, M. S. and Chengappa, S. (1986). Simultaneous acquisition of two languages: An overview, Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore.

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Shyamala Chengappa, Ph.D.
Department of Speech Pathology
All India Institute of Speech and Hearing
Mysore-570006, India