Speech Pathology

Child's mouthSpeech pathology, also known as speech-language pathology, is the study of speech and swallowing disorders. People trained in speech pathology are called speech pathologists. Speech pathologists have, at minimum, a master’s degree and must complete a licensing exam as well as clinical hours before they can practice speech pathology.

Elements of Speech Pathology
Speech disorders can be caused by developmental delays, structural anomalies, and illness, so people studying speech pathology must be well-informed about a wide variety of speech issues. The major elements of speech are examined below.

Language production, which includes the elements that give language meaning, including:

  • Phonology; formation of sound according to the rules of the language
  • Morphology; the individual units of meaning, and the understanding of these units
  • Syntax; the rules for using the language
  • Semantics; interpretation and understanding of language
  • Pragmatics; social and cultural elements of language such as inflection and body language

Speech production, which includes the basic mechanics of producing sounds. Speech production is influenced by:

  • The mechanical components of speech; which can be affected by breathing, facial structure and physical anomalies
  • Sound production; the ability to produce the sounds of speech
  • Intonation; the ability to vary pitch, sound and voice

Speech Pathology and Speech Disorders
There are a wide variety of speech disorders, and the field of speech pathology aims to discover and treat the underlying causes. Speech pathologists frequently work in conjunction with doctors and mental health professionals, particularly when a speech disorder is caused by a physical or mental health problem. The most common speech disorder is stuttering, but other common speech issues include delayed speech and pronunciation problems. Children with autism and other developmental disorders may have trouble producing or understanding speech.


  1. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
  2. Harwood, R., Miller, S. A., & Vasta, R. (2008). Child psychology: Development in a changing society. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Last Updated: 08-26-2015

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  • Jalu S

    November 8th, 2016 at 12:52 PM

    I thought what you said about the mechanical components of speech was interesting. All of my kids have had problems with their speech, but only one of them has had a mechanical condition that we can think of that would cause the issue: ear infections. We are not sure why the others have had struggles speaking, but we really need to find a good pathologist for all of them. Our oldest has figured out his speech, by now, but it didn’t come without some serious work and major disadvantages. We don’t want our other kids to experience the same thing.

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