The Components of Speech and Language

Published 17 Jan 2017

Language is a system of rules employed by humans in communication to convey and share thoughts, emotions and ideas. Language is the capacity to comprehend what is heard and the expression of notions by use of words through speech, signing, gestures, eye blinks or writing. The brain assists in the development of language as well as in its interpretation.

Language is composed of various elements namely: semantics, syntax, phonology, morphology and pragmatics. Phonology is the study of language speech structures, simple speech unit models and established pronunciation conventions. Phonemes are the basic sounds that constitute a language. For instance, ‘that” consists of three phonemes: ‘th’, ‘a’,‘t’. The study of basic units of meaning is called morphemes. Morphemes comprise of foundation words like ‘hat’, ‘love’ and ‘dog’ as well as affixes like ‘un-‘, and ‘re-‘, past tense as in ‘ed’ and plurals like ‘s’ and ‘es’. Morphology is crucial in language development and signifies basic structural blocks for understanding.

Syntax involves the study of the dynamics of combination of words with their smallest significant units to develop sentences. Comprehension of syntax makes one understand that the following differently-ordered sentences imply the same idea although they are of differing complexity: ‘The boy hit the ball’ and ‘The ball was hit by the boy’. The sentence ‘I went to the store’ is correct; but “to the store I went” is not grammatically acceptable (Ritzman, Sanger, 2006, p.265).

Semantics is how a language delivers meaning. Semantics is culture-specific and goes beyond literal meanings of words. Knowledge of semantics informs one that being “green with envy” doesn’t imply color change. Pragmatics refers to how communicators attain their goals by use of language. Different audiences call for different speech patterns; for instance, conversation styles when dealing with parents, friends, toddlers and siblings differ.

Language development is very intense in the initial three years of human development when the brain is enlarging and maturing. Language skills develop best in environments with various sounds, images and continuous exposure to the language and speech of other persons. The maturing brain can absorb any language during this critical period. Initial signs of communication are manifest in the initial few days when an infant realizes that a cry will induce provision of food, company of comfort. The infant starts to identify crucial sounds in their environment. As they develop, infants begin to distinguish speech sounds (phonemes) or structural blocks that constitute words. At six months majority of infants can identify principal sounds of their local language (Murata, 2000, p.524).

An infant can make inhibited sounds with the maturation of the speech structures; lips, jaw, tongue and voice. The initial months witness cooing – a quiet, appealing, recurring vocalization. At six months, the infant can repeatedly utter syllables like “da, da or ba, ba”. This babbling develops into an incomprehensible jargon having the quality and rhythm of human speech but devoid of words. At the close of year one, most children can say a few basic words. At the outset, the kids are oblivious of the meanings of their maiden words; they learn of the implications of the words when others react to them.

At eighteen months, majority of toddlers can utter eight to ten words. At two years, majority can crudely join words into sentences like ‘more milk’. They rapidly realize that objects, thoughts and actions are symbolized through words. Children also participate in mock or representational play activities. The ages three, four and five usher in accelerated vocabulary build-up and mastering of the conventions of language by children.

Inpidual children follow different language development patterns. A conventional language-attainment progression exists with milestones- observable skills that act as a guide to regular development. The milestones are categorized based on the ages of children. milestones include: Birth to five months, 6-11 months, 12-17 months, 18-23 months, 2-3 years, 3-4 years, 4-5 years, five, six, seven and eight years (Murata, 2000, p.529).

At six months, a toddler can vocalize with accent and reacts when their names are called out. The infant reacts to human voices with no visual hints by moving eyes and head. They can fittingly react to either cordial or irate tones. At twelve months, the infant can utilize one or more meaningful words or a portion of a word. The toddler can also comprehend basic instructions if supplemented with verbal or physical cues. The child understands the social worth of speech. By eighteen months, the child’s vocabulary numbers 5-20 words, mainly comprising of nouns. They exhibit echolalia; the repetitive uttering of a word and a lot of emotional jargon. They can track basic guidelines.

At age two, children can name several items present in their environment. They can utilize at least two prepositions among ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘under’. They can join words into simple sentences mainly comprising of nouns and verbs. They can utter about 67 percent intelligible content and possess 150-300 words vocabulary. The pace and fluency of speech is not well developed with disorganized voice pitch and capacity. Three pronouns, ‘I’ ‘me’ and ‘you’, are properly used though ‘I’ is confused with ‘me’. The child starts to use ‘my’ and ‘mine’ and can react to the command ‘show me your nose’ (Ritzman, Sanger, 2006, p.271).

By the time they are 36 months old, children correctly use the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘I’, several past tenses and plurals and are familiar with at least three prepositions like ‘on’, ‘in’ and ‘under’. They recognize and can point out main body organs. They can easily manage three-word sentences and have a vocabulary base of 900-100 words. The use of verbs is predominant. They can comprehend basic queries on their environment and actions and coherently narrates experiences. The kid can answer questions like ‘what one must do when hungry, cold, sleepy or thirsty’. They can state their age, gender and names, though they don’t usually answer all queries even though they have the answers.

At age two, the kid comprehends names of popular animals and can show meanings of at least four prepositions by employing them in sentences. They can name usual items in books or magazine pictures and are familiar with one or more colors. The child can repeat 4 slowly issued digits as well as four syllable words. They can show their comprehension of ‘over’ and ‘under’. The child is aware of most vowels and diphthongs as well as the consonants ‘p’, ‘b’, ‘m’, ‘w’, ‘n’. They frequently participate in make-believe and perform in-depth verbalization as they perform their activities. They comprehend the contrast notions of ‘larger’ and ‘longer’. Basic commands are adhered to promptly even in the absence of physical stimulus (Ritzman, Sanger, 2006, p.276).

At 60 months of age, kids can simultaneously use descriptive adjective and adverb words and are aware of basic opposites like: heavy-light, hard-soft and little-big. They can count up to ten and have number notions amounting to four or more. Speech is fully intelligible with slight articulation hindrances. All consonants (p, m, h, b, k, w, t, g, n, d, ng, y) and vowels are known. The kid can recap as long as nine-word sentences. They can explain usual items based on their uses, for instance, chair, hat and shoe. Kids can adhere to three commands issued in succession are aware of their ages. Basic time notions, for example, afternoon, morning, day, night, later, after, tomorrow, today, yesterday, and while, are well understood. They can utilize quite long, compound and complex sentences. Speech is generally grammatically sound.

By age six, children have added the consonants ‘f’, ‘sh’, ‘v’, ‘th’, ‘zh’, to their vocabulary. Speech is completely logical and socially important. They can relate a connected story about a diagram emphasizing linkages between items and events. At age seven, they have integrated the consonants s-z, r, inaudible ‘th’, ‘ch’, ‘wh’, and the sleek ‘g’ like in George. They can easily manage similarities like: man-woman, girl-boy, swims-flies, ling-short, sharp-blunt, sour-sweet. They comprehend the sense of, ‘alike’, ‘end’ and ‘different’. They can state time to quarter hour and can write or print numerous words and perform basic reading (Murata, 2000, p.536).

At eight years, a kid easily relays past events using compound and complex sentences. Few breaks in grammatical constructions occur and all sounds of speech, including consonant mixes, are developed. Reading is easy and writes basic compositions. Where appropriate, social amenities are present in the kid’s speech with properly developed volume, rate and pitch control. Conversations are almost at adult level and they can adhere to complex commands with minimal repetition. Time and number notions are well established.

Speech is the audible expression of language and is developed in the brain. The brain organizes muscles and body organs coordination in the production of unambiguous properly-developed speech. The brain controls the movements of the oral cavity constituents including tongue, lips and jaw as well as movements of the larynx constituents. These physical structures make up speech hardware whereas their activities compose speech software. The respiratory structure, comprising of trachea (windpipe), lungs and rib cage, supplies air making the vocal cords vibrate resulting in the production of sound. The auditory system, composed of outer ear, auditory nerve, inner ear, auditory canal, and brain auditory receptors, facilitates monitoring of speech and comprehension of the speech of others (Murata, 2000, p.541).


  • Murata, N (2000). Speech-Language Strategies for Physical Educators. JOPERD-The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, Vol.71; 520-544
  • Ritzman, M. & Sanger, D. (2006). A Case Study of a Collaborative Speech-Language Pathologist. Communication Quarterly, Vol.27; 263-282
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