We explain what speech is, how it develops and what its characteristics are. Also, what is the speech act and its problems.

What is speech act?

By speech we understand the communicative act through which a person materializes his thoughts in a series of ordered and articulated sounds (words).

Speech is, in this sense, and according to traditional linguistics, the representation and transmission of thought through sounds , meanings and normative principles contained in a given language ( language ).

The scholar and founder of structural linguistics Ferdinand de Saussure proposed in his Course on General Linguistics (1916) that language and speech are distinct but complementary .

The first is social, immaterial and durable, that is, a social code of organization of meanings associated with the mental imprint of certain sounds, while speech is individual, material, ephemeral and mutable .

Speech Characteristics :

  1. Individual

Unlike language, which belongs to all its speakers equally , speech is a matter of an individual or a group of them, since it is a specific realization.

Thus, each individual has his way of speaking , depending on where he comes from, since each community also has its way of speaking.

But it also depends on their anatomy and their individual sociolinguistic characteristics.

  1. Material


Speech is material because it consists of the articulated sounds that we emit when the air passes from the lungs through the pharynx, making the vocal cords vibrate in different ways and sounding.

That is to say that the sound waves are the vehicle of the codified meanings that reach the ears of the receiver or receivers.

For this reason, speech can be recorded on a sound device and reproduced , while language cannot, since it is abstract.

It can help you: Voice

  1. Ephemeral

Since it consists of meanings encoded in sound waves traveling from sender to receiver, speech disappears once those waves cease to be emitted.

It has a limited duration time , since each word lasts a specific time. Each syllable and each sentence , once finished, ceases to exist, lasting only in the memory of those who perceived it.

  1. Linear


Speech is made up of a series of sounds that must appear and be perceived in a linear fashion to have meaning. The order in which the sounds appear matters, since saying dog (in that order: p, e, rr, o) is not the same as saying orrep (even if they are the same and identical sounds).

This means that speech is like a line: it has a beginning and it has an end , in a specific order.

  1. Mutable

In fact, speech is pure mutation, pure variety . Who speaks the same way all the time, using the same words, the same terms or the same intonations?

Speech is a communicative event , so it adapts to the most diverse contexts: the receiving public, the context in which it is spoken, the sender's state of mind, the subject being discussed, and a long etcetera.

language, on the other hand, since it operates as a set of rules , tends to be immutable at a given moment : no one can change the language at will and decide that a word changes its meaning, for example.

On the other hand, prolonged use over time does alter the language , and to that extent speech gradually imposes itself on the language, modifying it.

  1. What is a speech act?

What is a speech act?

A speech act is called an address, a piece of speech , that is, a fragment of language materialized in a specific context and with a specific function.

An example of this are the pieces of language that are said in social situations in which what is said is considered an act in itself: the “yes, I do” at a wedding; the "innocent" or "guilty" in the statement of a trial; the "I swear" during the inauguration of a president.

However, any spoken utterance can be considered a speech act in itself.

  1. Speech and dialects

speech and dialects

 Each geographic or even social community (such as social classes ) has a specific accepted mode of speech, which is shared among those who belong to said community or stratum.

This is how dialects and sociolects are born, recognizable and significant variations of the language , but which do not constitute a language in itself.

If an individual does not belong to that community, even if they speak the same language in some cases, they must learn these additional uses in order to fully understand what is being said to them.

However, they are considered internal variations of the language, because at a deeper level they still respect the general framework of the language and remain more or less recognizable by all its speakers as such.

  1. Speech and accents

Another notorious characteristic of speech is what we know as "accents" or "tones", that is, the different ways in which each geographical community materializes the language . In this case, changes of meaning are not introduced, as in the case of dialects, but phonetic variations, of pronunciation.

This can range from variants of elaboration of the same phoneme , such as the letter y that sounds "i", "y" or "sh" depending on the South American geographic region (Andean, Caribbean and River Plate).

  1. How does it develop?

How does it develop?

Speech is an innate human capacity, which is fully developed through the acquisition of language, during early childhood.

However, it is a gradual process that comprises several stages:

  • From birth to 5 months. The infant makes noises when spoken to (recognizes voice), coos, and usually vocally expresses pleasure (laughter) or discomfort (crying).
  • From 6 to 11 months. Babbling and nonsense pronunciation of repeated basic syllables (“ma-ma”, “pa-pa”) begins. Towards the end of the period he tries to communicate with gestures, tries to repeat sounds and eventually pronounces his first words with a referential meaning.
  • From 12 to 17 months. Already the infant responds to simple questions without words, and has a vocabulary of four to six words, with unclear or doubtful pronunciation.
  • From 18 to 23 months.  His vocabulary expands through repetition and reaches about 50 words, being able to imitate animal sounds , ask for food by name and combine simple words. Towards the end of the period can pronounce simple sentences.
  • From 2 to 3 years.  Begins to handle some spatial concepts, learns the first pronouns and descriptive terms (“big”, “good”, etc.). His sentences consist of three or four words and he begins to use inflections for sentences (interrogations, exclamations, etc.).
  • From 3 to 4 years.  The infant recognizes colors, associates objects and expresses very basic ideas or feelings, repeats entire sentences and can use language in a playful way, in games , poems , songs, etc. His pronunciation is now much clearer.
  • From 4 to 5 years.  He already understands complex questions, can use irregular verbs and difficult forms of language , but with difficulty. Often confuses long words or words with many syllables.
  • From 5 to 6 years.  The infant masters language and speech well enough to participate in conversation, using compound and complex sentences, describing objects, and using their imagination to create stories. His grip on language is full, and he can use it to learn the very things he doesn't know.

  1. Speech problems

speech problems

The problems that affect human speech can range from its dullness, to its total impediment (aphasia), and are generally due to:

  • Total or partial deafness, which affects the ability to repeat sounds.
  • Dysphonia or aphonia, or mechanical complications due to malformations.
  • Stuttering and other psychological symptoms that affect speech.
  • Learning problems.
  • Brain damage from accidents or stroke.
  • Clinical disorders: specific language disorder, expressive language disorder or autism spectrum disorder.

There are specialists dedicated to the study of speech and communication, especially the ideal techniques for its recovery or reinforcement. They are known as speech therapists.

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring reliable sources and recommendations from technology experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


Passionate about understanding and contributing to a world that does not stop changing. New forms of Work, Sustainability and Technology. For many years he has worked as a creative for large international companies. He has a Ph.D. in information technology and he has been doing quantitative research in the interdisciplinary areas of information systems, cyber security, data analytics and artificial intelligence. He continue to look for creative solutions through technology to help companies to be more humane and sustainable..

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