human vocal communication using spoken language
For 'speech', meaning a talk, see Public speaking

Speech is when spoken language is used to communicate. Only humans have language. Animals do not have speech, but some (birds are a good example) can communicate with each other by using sounds and gestures.[1][2][3]

Speech is made by sounds vibrating the vocal folds. Sounds through the voice box is shaped by the jaw, tongue, teeth, palate, lips, and nose.

To make speech a person has to be able to:

  1. choose speech sounds
  2. put them into a sequence
  3. produce sound in the voice box
  4. use the lips, tongue, teeth, nose and palate to shape the sounds

Difficulties can happen at any stage of this four-stage process. A speech and language therapist can help work out the stage of the sequence that has difficulties and give therapy.[4][5]

Effective speech includes the following elements – fluency, flexibility, accuracy, and comprehensibility.

  • Fluency is the ability to communicate an intended message, or affect the listener in the way that is intended by the speaker.
  • Flexibility is the ability to adjust the message according to the responses of the listener. It also involves choosing words and expressions which will be understood by the listener(s). Compare with Cross-cultural communication.
  • Accuracy is the use of proper grammar in spoken language.
  • Comprehensibility is the ability to be understood by others. There are three components of sound which influence one’s comprehensibility:
Pronunciation: saying the sounds of words correctly;
Intonation: applying proper stress and rhythm while speaking; and
Enunciation: speaking clearly at an appropriate pace and volume.


  1. Lieberman, Philip. 1991. Uniquely Human: the evolution of speech, thought, and selfless behavior. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-92182-5. OCLC 21764294
  2. Lieberman, Philip. 2006. Toward an evolutionary biology of language. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-02184-6. OCLC 62766735.
  3. Lieberman P. 2007. The evolution of human speech: its anatomical and neural bases. Current Anthropology. 48 (1): 39–66. doi:10.1086/509092. S2CID 28651524.
  4. Bauman-Waengler J. 2000. Articulatory & phonological impairments: a clinical focus. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  5. Stackhouse J. and Wells B. 1997. Children’s speech and literacy difficulties. London: Whurr.