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Suffolk Center for Speech


Common Speech and Language Terms

At the start of speech and language services it may be overwhelming for parents.  There are many terms that speech pathologists use that parents may not be familiar with.  As SLPs it is important that we ensure our parents understand everything we are discussing when it comes to their child as this will optimize treatment and carryover at home.  Since many of the words SLPs use are unique to our field and the field of special education it is important to educate parents on the meanings of these terms.

Here are a few of the common terms that parents may come across during the course of their child’s treatment.

  • Speech/Language Difference vs. Speech/Language Disorder:
    • Speech/language difference refers to a difference or variation in the child’s language background which may cause differences in their speech and language.  For example, children who are bilingual may exhibit differences in their speech or language production of their second language due to the impact of  their first language, dialect or accent.
    • Speech/Language disorder refers to an actual impairment resulting in atypical development of the child’s speech/language development when compared to their age-matched peers.  Children exhibiting a language impairment should seek a comprehensive speech/language evaluation to determine if speech therapy is necessary.
  • Articulation vs. Phonology
    • Articulation refers to the actual production of speech sounds.  Articulation errors are different from phonological errors because these are errors occur due to difficulties executing the proper production of the speech sound.  An example of an articulation error is a lisp.
    • Phonology refers to how speech sounds go together and follow patterns to create words. Phonological disorders occur when a child’s speech does not follow the correct pattern for how to correctly produce specific sounds.  An example of a phonological deficit is a child who produces the /t/ sound for the /k/ sound and the /d/ sound for the /g/ sound.  This is known as velar fronting, which is a phonological process that results in a velar sound being replaced by a sound that is produced anteriorly in the mouth.
  • Augmentative Communication vs. Alternative Communication
    • Augmentative Communication is a device that helps a child who is limited in their verbal expressive language communicate by adding to their communication.  These devices or tools can be utilized in conjunction with the child’s verbal language to help them better communicate their wants/needs.  An example is using picture cards in conjunction with verbal words to better communicate their wants/needs.
    • Alternative communication is a new/different type of communication that replaces another form of communication such as speaking.  These devices can be utilized for children who are nonverbal and need an alternative form of communication to express themselves.
  • MLU: Mean Length Utterance
    • MLU is another term which is often utilized by speech language pathologists and may be unfamiliar to parents as it is specialized to this field.  MLU refers to the mean or average length of a child’s utterance.  Many children with language delay have deficits in MLU as they have often exhibit shorter utterance length.  MLU corresponds to a child’s age and increases as a child grows older.  A child of 1 year of age should be speaking in single word utterances which correlates to an MLU of 1.  This MLU increases as the child gets older with an MLU of 2 or more at 2-years of age, 3 or more at 3-years of age and 4 or more at 4-years of age.
  • Syntax vs. Semantics
    • Syntax refers to the structure of language and how sentences should be constructed.  Syntax encompasses the grammatical rules of a given language.  A child with a poor understanding of grammar such as verb tenses or plurals will have deficits in the area of syntax.
    • Semantics refers to the meaning of words and correlates to the child’s vocabulary development.  Children who have a limited understanding of age appropriate vocabulary and concepts will have deficits in the area of semantics.
  • Prosody
    • Prosody is another common speech and language term which refers to the melody of speech including suprasegmental features such as rate, rhythm, intonation, volume, stress and pitch.  Prosody helps individuals convey emotions, sarcasm a question verse a statement and energy.
  • Pragmatics
    • Pragmatic language refers to the social use of language, including tone of voice, turn taking, topic maintenance, providing context to a story, and appropriate usage of words given a specific audience or situation.  Pragmatic deficits are often associated with specific disorders such as those included under the realm of Autism Spectrum Disorders.
  • Resonance
    • Resonance refers to the flow of air through the nose or mouth during speech.  The velum is an essential structure within the vocal tract as it helps control resonance.  The velum closes off airflow to the nose for all English phonemes except nasal sounds /m/, /n/ and /ng/. Resonance disorders are often associated with cleft palate or velopharyngeal incompetence.

SOURCE: Super Duper Publications,  ASHA

-Jenna Oldfield MA, CF-SLP, TSSLD

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