Speech and Language: Definitions of Commonly Used Terms

Apraxia – a neurologically based motor speech disorder that makes it difficult to execute the sequences of movements necessary for intelligible connected speech; muscle weakness is not associated with apraxia.

Auditory Processing Disorder – the inability to understand spoken language in a meaningful way.

Autism – a condition typically accompanied by deficiencies of speech and language development, as well as non-verbal communication. Difficulties interacting with other people are common.

Articulation – use of articulators (lips, tongue, etc.) to produce speech sounds.

Expressive language impairment – language problems that affect spontaneous and/or structured verbal language.

Expressive vocabulary – refers to the use of words for speaking.

Individualized Education Program (IEP) – a written education plan developed by the therapist and the parent(s)/guardian(s) that describes the student’s present level of performance, the student’s speech needs, outlines his/her speech and/or language goals and objectives, and identifies the methods for assessing progress toward these goals and objectives. It must be reviewed and updated annually. In addition, the IEP includes any necessary supports, accommodations, adaptations, and/or additional related services.

Morphology – refers to how sounds and words are put together to form meaning.

Pragmatics – refers to the rules that govern and describe how language is used situationally, in light of its context and environment; involves the social use of language to communicate needs, request information, ask for help, explain a problem, give directions, etc.

Phonology – refers to the study of the sound system of language, including speech sounds, speech patterns, and the rules that apply to those sounds.

Receptive language impairment – refers to language problems that affect the comprehension of incoming language.

Receptive vocabulary – refers to the understanding or comprehension of the meaning of words.

Semantics – concerns the meaning of language at the word, sentence and conversational levels.

Stuttering – a fluency disorder characterized by an interruption in the normal flow of speech.

Syntax – refers to sentence structure or correct word order use when formulating sentences and questions; it concerns knowledge of the rules that apply to the ordering of words for meaning to be understood and conveyed.

Voice disorder – characterized by an abnormal pitch, volume, or vocal quality.


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