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What is the difference between “speech” and “language”?

The job title “speech-language pathologist” or “SLP” is often shortened to “speech therapist”; but this abbreviated title can lead to confusion about what the role of an SLP really entails. This post aims to briefly describe the difference between speech and language.


  • The way we produce sounds to create words, phrases, sentences, etc.

  • Involves articulation, fluency, and voice

  • Articulation: the way the parts of our mouth, or articulators, work together to form all of the sounds in a language. Articulators include lips, tongue, teeth, hard and soft palate.

  • Fluency: the rhythm and smoothness of the way we talk

  • Voice: the way our vocal folds move or vibrate to create sounds


  • The way that we use and understand words for a variety of purposes

  • Includes semantics, pragmatics, morphology, syntax, and phonology

  • Semantics: understanding and using vocabulary

  • Pragmatics: includes the social aspects of speaking, writing, listening and reading

  • Morphology: the way we modify words to create new meanings (i.e. quick, quickly, quickest)

  • Syntax: the appropriate use and understanding of sentence structure

  • Phonology: listening to, understanding, and using phonemes and phonological patterns accurately

Language can be more broadly divided into receptive and expressive language. Receptive language describes the way we comprehend language (listening and reading), while expressive language is related to the way we use language (speaking and writing).


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