We know speech and language terminology can be hard to keep up with sometimes.
To make life easier we've created this glossary for you, filled with terms that are commonly used by speech and language professionals. We hope this is helpful but do keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive. If you have any questions, please contact us
AAC: Alternative and Augmentative Communication such as sign language, symbol systems, communication aids etc.
Active Listening: taking an active responsibility for understanding a spoken message, e.g. using clarification strategies.
Aphasia: Partial or total loss of the ability to articulate ideas or comprehend spoken or written language, resulting from damage to the brain caused by injury or disease.
Aphonia: Loss of the voice resulting from disease, injury to the vocal cords, or various psychological causes.
Applied Behavioural Analysis: ABA is a method to change behaviour. It consists of delivery of systematic directions that elicit responses from the student which are consistently reinforced. The theory is that reinforced behaviour will reoccur. ABA is a discipline that requires consistency, behaviour prompting and rewards for correct behaviour or approximations of correctness.
Articulation: We can only produce, or articulate, the sounds of speech by moving body parts (by contracting and relaxing muscles) and by making air move. Most of the movements for speech take place in the mouth and throat, and the chest where breath is controlled. The mouth and throat parts are called ‘the articulators’. The principal articulators are the tongue, lips, the lower jaw, the teeth, the soft palate (velum), the uvula and the larynx (voice box). There are active articulators which can be moved into contact with other articulators (e.g., the tongue) and passive articulators which are ‘fixed’ (e.g., teeth, alveolar ridge, and hard palate).
Articulation Disorder: Characterised by the inability to produce individual speech sounds clearly and difficulty combining sounds correctly for words.
Articulators: lips and tongue.
Assessment: Formal (e.g., standardised tests) and informal procedures used to identify a person’s unique needs, strengths, weaknesses, learning style, and nature and extent of intervention services needed. Assessment may be interchangeable with “Evaluation,” and it is at this clinic.
Attention: the ability to focus in an appropriate, sustained way on a particular task or activity.
Audiogram: An audiogram is a graph of hearing thresholds measured in decibels hearing level (dB HL) as a function of speech frequency measured in Hertz (Hz). All children with hearing and/or speech and/or language issues require an audiogram.
Audiologist: A professional who specialises in the identification, testing, habilitation and rehabilitation of hearing loss and hearing related disorders (e.g., central auditory processing disorder). A person who is also extensively trained in the anatomy and physiology of the auditory mechanism, counselling for hearing disorders, and diagnostic testing/fitting of hearing aids as well as assistive listening devices.
Auditory Discrimination: the ability to recognise and distinguish similarities and differences between speech sounds.
Auditory Perceptual Processing Disorder: Also referred to as an auditory perceptual problem, central auditory dysfunction or central auditory processing disorder (CAPD). It can be defined as difficulty in listening to or comprehending auditory information, especially under less optimal listening conditions (e.g., background noise). It is a condition wherein a person does not process speech/language correctly. They may have difficulties knowing where sound has occurred and identifying the source of the sound or in distinguishing one sound from another. Children and adults with CAPD are diverse and have difficulty using auditory information to communicate and learn. For more information, please click on “Understanding” and then “Auditory Perceptual Processing Disorder” at the top of the screen.
Auditory Memory: the ability to process and retain heard information for long enough to act on it (sometimes called Short-term auditory memory).
Autism: Autism is a complex developmental disability that appears during the first three years of life. The result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain, autism and its associated behaviours have been estimated to occur in as many as 1 in 500 individuals (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention 1997). Autism is four times more prevalent in boys than girls and knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries. Family income, lifestyle, and educational levels do not affect the chance of autism’s occurrence. Per the DSM IV, autism includes delays and/or abnormal functioning (with onset prior to age 3) in at least one of the following areas: (1) social interaction, (2) language as used in social communication, or (3) symbolic or imaginative play. The disturbance is not better accounted for by Rett’s Disorder or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. Further, for a diagnosis, a total of six or more items from A, B and C (below), and at least two from A and one each from B and C must be present. See “Autism–Diagnostic Criteria” A, B and C below.
Autism-Diagnostic Criteria “A”: Qualitative impairments in reciprocal social interaction: marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviours such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction. Failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level. Lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interest, or achievements with others. Lack of social or emotional reciprocity.
Autism-Diagnostic Criteria “B”: Qualitative impairments in communication: a delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime). Marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others despite adequate speech. Stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language. Lack of varied spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level.
Autism-Diagnostic Criteria “C”: Restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interest, or activity, encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest, abnormal either in intensity or focus. An apparently compulsive adherence to specific nonfunctional routines or rituals. Stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, complex whole-body movements). Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects.
Autistic Spectrum Disorders: May also be referred to as pervasive developmental disorders. Autistic spectrum disorders include Asperger syndrome, autism, and pervasive developmental disorders–not otherwise specified. They are neurological in origin and symptoms appear in the first few years of life. The disorders share a set of behavioural characteristics, but each child/adult shows symptoms and characteristics very differently.
British Sign Language (BSL): the language of the Deaf community in England, Scotland and Wales. BSL is a visual language system which has its own grammar (including grammatical facial expression) and idioms. It is not a signed form of English.
Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS): Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is a relatively rare Speech Sound Disorder (SSD) in which a child has difficulty planning and sequencing the movements required for speech, and difficulty with prosody. Most children with CAS have language difficulties in addition to their SSD. Most have a receptive-expressive gap, understanding language much better than they can use it to express themselves. CAS is regarded as a severe SSD and its incidence is less than 1% of a typical speech pathology caseload. Despite the similar sounding name, CAS is a different disorder from Apraxia of Speech (AOS) in adults, with different characteristics.
Clarification Strategies: Identifying why a message has not been understood and then requesting a change in the behaviour of the person giving the message itself to enable understanding e.g. speaking more loudly or more slowly, repeating, rephrasing, adding more specific information etc.
Commenting: talking about what the child is doing or is involved in – avoiding the use of excessive questioning.
Communication: exchanging information with other people using verbal and non-verbal means.
Communication Environment: who you are talking to and where you talk to them.
Comprehension: understanding what is said, signed or written (also referred to as Receptive Language).
Deduction: the ability to use given information in order to solve a problem. Deduction produces new information (M Johnson). At 6 years of age children can typically cope with a simple and visually concrete deduction.
Delay: typical speech and/or language development, but following a child of a younger developmental age.
Developmental Language Disorder (DLD): a diagnosis of a language disorder which is not associated with another condition (e.g. autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or an acquired brain injury).
Developmental Speech Disorder: Children who do not develop speech production skills appropriately or according to normative data are speech delayed or disordered.
Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia (DVD): a motor speech disorder affecting the planning and coordination of muscle movements. Speech may be characterised by inconsistent use of sounds, visible groping for sounds, inability to articulate sound sequences when asked to do so on command, after imitation and difficulties increasing with length and complexity of sound sequence.
Diagnosis: The act or process of identifying or determining the nature and cause of a disease or injury through evaluation of patient history, examination, and review of other significant data. b. The opinion derived from such an evaluation.
Disability: The functional consequence of impairment.
Discrete Trial Training: Discrete trial training (DTT) is a method of behavioural intervention. DTT programs generally involve several hours of direct one-on-one instruction per day over many months or years and teach specific skills in an intensive manner. The discrete trial method has four distinct parts (according to Anderson et al, 1996): (1) the trainer’s presentation, (2) the child’s response, (3) the consequence, (4) a short pause between the consequence and the next instruction (between interval trials). In general, DTT programs target skills that are broken down into finite, discrete tasks. The behavioural therapist typically uses repetition, feedback, and positive reinforcers to help the child master small tasks. Once mastered, basic skills are used as building blocks to develop more complex abilities. Behavioural excesses such as tantrumming, aggression, and repetitive behaviours, may also be addressed. Not all programs using DTT follow the same program sequences or curriculum.
Disorder: atypical speech and/or language development which doesn’t follow the ‘normal’ developmental pattern.
Dysarthria: a motor speech disorder that is due to a paralysis, weakness, altered muscle tone or incoordination of the speech muscles. Speech is slow, weak, slurred, effortful, imprecise or uncoordinated. Voice and breathing for speech may also be affected.
Dysfluency: interruptions to the smooth or fluent flow of speech, including sound and word repetitions, tense ‘blocks’ on sounds and facial grimaces (also referred to as stammer/stutter).
Dysphagia: A disorder/condition that affects an individual’s ability to swallow.
Dysphasia: Impairment of speech and verbal comprehension; term often used when associated with stroke or brain injury.
Early Intervention: applies to children prior to school age who are discovered to have or be at risk of developing a handicapping condition or other special need that may affect their development. Early intervention consists of the provision of services for such children and their families for the purpose of lessening the effects of the condition. Early intervention can be remedial or preventive in nature–remediating existing developmental problems or preventing their occurrence.
Echolalia: repetition of another’s speech sounds or language in a non-meaningful way.
Educational Therapist: a professional who uses educational and therapeutic approaches in working with clients of all ages with learning problems and learning disabilities. Educational Therapists perform professional work which requires applying the concepts, principles, and practices of education and rehabilitation therapy.
Expressive Language: the choice and arrangement of words into phrases and sentences, taking into account grammatical rules. The language may then be conveyed via speech, sign, symbols or writing.
Functional Communication: the appropriateness of which language is used within a context.
Forced Alternatives: providing the child with a choice of two items/ object to verbally choose from, one of which is the target item/ object.
Glue Ear: a fluctuating hearing loss caused by the intermittent build-up of fluid behind the eardrum.
Grammar: the rules followed in language; the combination (syntax) or the modifying of words (morphology) to form appropriate phrases or sentences e.g talking about the past or future.
Hyperlexia: a syndrome observed in children who have the following characteristics: an ability to read words, far above what would be expected at their chronological age, frequently an intense and early fascination with letters or numbers, significant difficulty in understanding/processing verbal language, abnormal social skills, and deficits in social/pragmatic communication abilities. Precocious reading abilities are developed spontaneously before the age of five; they are not taught.
Hypernasal: speech sounds affected by too much air flow down the nose.
Hyponasal: speech sounds affected by too little air flow down the nose.
Inference: any conclusion which one can reasonably be entitled to draw from a sentence or utterance (Hurford et al 1993). Inference uses implied or assumed information. Children begin to infer meaning from approximately 5-6 years but the skill continues to develop until at least 13 years (M Johnson).
Information Carrying Words (ICW): the number of keywords that must be understood for the overall meaning of a spoken or signed utterance to be carried out e.g. “Show me the teddies nose” = 2ICW (also known as keywords).
Intonation: the rhythm of how we speak.
Jargon: sound sequences, phrases and sentences with no meaningful content (this refers to child’s language but sometimes covers professionals as well!).
Language Content: the meaning of what is said, signed or written.
Language Delay: language development that is following a normal pattern, but typical of a younger child. Development occurs at a slower rate. This is a type of developmental language disorder.
Language Disorder (LD): language development that follows an atypical/irregular pattern.
Language Form: how what is said, signed or written is organised e.g. rules of grammar, rules of speech.
Language Use: how a speaker and/or signer uses language in a social context (also known as pragmatics).
Lisp: a widely used lay term for difficulties pronouncing certain sounds, particularly /s/ and /z/. Speech pathologists may use this term, but they are more likely to describe the nature of the error, for example ‘Interdental s’, ‘Lateral affricates’, etc.
Makaton: a simplified sign and symbol system based on British Sign Language (BSL) and natural gesture.
Modelling: repeating the child’s sentence/ sign and thus providing an example of appropriate words and phrases.
Nasal or ‘The Nasals’: relating to the nose, e.g., ‘nasal consonant’, ‘nasal resonance’, ‘hypernasal’, ‘hyponasal’. Nasal consonants, commonly called ‘the nasals’, are made with air escaping only through the nose. To produce nasals the soft palate must be lowered to let air escape past it and down the nose. At the same time, the soft palate must close off the opening to the oral cavity to prevent air from escaping through it. Children with cleft palate cannot do either, so their palates must be surgically repaired. There are three nasal consonants in English /m/ as in ‘rum’, /n/ as in ‘run’ and ‘ng’ as in ‘rung’.
Non-literal Language: language which requires prior world knowledge. It is based on words which usually have several meanings or which don’t make sense in combination with the other words used e.g. idioms.
Non-verbal Communication: the parts of communication which are not verbally language-based, but which rely on the individual’s understanding or use of gesture, body language, facial expression, eye contact etc.
Occupational Therapist: someone who provides evaluation and treatment of daily living skills for individuals with disabilities. Therapy emphasises remediation of or compensation for perceptual, sensory, visual-motor, fine-motor, and self-care deficits.
PECS: Picture Exchange Communication System created by Bondy and Frost (1994). Requires the child to exchange a picture of the desired item with another person in order to retrieve the item and thus teach the initiation of communication.
Phonology: the rule-based system of sounds used in speech.
Phonological Awareness: the awareness of sounds within words, for example, identifying the initial sound of a word, words that rhyme and the number of syllables within a word.
Phonological Disorder: a disorder characterised by failure to use speech sounds that are appropriate for the individual’s age and dialect. Symptoms typically include but are not limited to failure in sound production and use, substitutions of one sound for another, and omissions of sounds. The pattern of errors may indicate use of inappropriate phonological processes/rules for the child’s age, e.g., final consonant deletion, or omission of final consonants in words when speaking.
Physical Therapist: provides assessment and treatment for disorders related to physical and musculoskeletal injuries. Therapy emphasises remediation of or compensation for mobility, gait, muscle strength, and postural deficits.
Pragmatics: the rules about how we use language in social communication, including the appropriate use of eye contact, turn taking, initiation of conversation, maintaining a topic of conversation etc. Disordered pragmatic skill or development means that a child has difficulties in understanding and using the rules of interaction in an appropriate and flexible way.
Pre-linguistic Skills: skills needed before language can develop e.g. eye contact, turn taking, pretend play.
Selective Mutism: a communication difficulty in which the child chooses not to speak in certain situations or to certain people although they have the ability to do so.
Semantics: the knowledge of the meaning surrounding words and sentences, for example, a ‘cat’ has two ears, four legs, fur and says “Meow”.
Semantic-Pragmatic Disorder: a term used to describe children who have difficulties with conversational interaction, such as initiating appropriate topics of conversation, and understanding non-literal meanings e.g. “It’s raining cats and dogs”.
Sign Supported English (SSE): signs drawn from British Sign Language (BSL) and used alongside spoken English in English word order. It is not a language in its own right as BSL is.
Social Communication Disorder: Children with social communication disorder will have prominent difficulties with using language for social purposes (or pragmatics), for example in conversation, story-telling, and using figurative language (jokes and metaphors).
Social Skills: the ability to interact with other people appropriately, include making appropriate eye contact, taking turns, using appropriate language, demonstrating listener awareness, initiating interaction and responding to interaction.
Specific Language Impairment (SLI): a previous term for developmental language disorder.
Speech Delay: speech development that is following a normal pattern, but typical of a younger child.
Speech Disorder: speech development that follows an atypical/irregular pattern.
SLT or SALT: Speech and Language Therapy/Therapist.
SLTA / SP: Speech and Language Therapy Assistant / Support Practitioner.
Speech-Language Pathologist: a professional who is educated to assess speech and language development, treat language and speech disorders, and help people with swallowing disorders. Requires at least a Master’s Degree, state, and national credentials.
Speech Sound Disorder; SSD: difficulty with and/or slowness in the development of a child’s speech. SSD may be due to a genetically based linguistic processing deficit (60% of children with SSD); fluctuating conductive hearing loss/ ‘glue ear’ (30% of children with SSD); or a genetically transmitted deficit in speech motor control (10% of children with SSD). There is overlap between these areas (e.g., a child might have glue ear and a linguistic processing deficit).
Sound System: the sounds that a child is able to say and the sound combination rules the child makes use of.
Stuttering: a fluency disorder. Stuttering (called ‘stammering’ in the UK and parts of the US) disrupts the fluency of speech. Hence, ‘stutters’ are often referred to as ‘dysfluencies’ or ‘nonfluencies’. They may be in the form of prolongations, blocks or repetitions. One or any combination of these features may be present, consistently or variably. All children who stutter require assessment by an SLP/SLT.
Syntax: the rules of combining words to make a sentence (grammar).
Theory of Mind: often abbreviated as TOM. A specific cognitive ability to understand others as intentional agents, that is, to interpret their minds in terms of theoretical concepts of intentional states such as beliefs and desires. It has been commonplace in philosophy to see this ability as intrinsically dependent upon our linguistic abilities. After all, language provides with us a representational medium for meaning and intentionality : thanks to language we are able to describe other people’s and our own actions in an intentional way as in : “Ralph believes that Mary intends him to persuade George that p”. According to this view, the intentionality of natural language, that is, its suitability for expressing meanings and thoughts, is the key for understanding the intentionality of our theory of mind.
Therapy: treatment of illness, disability, or delay.
Tongue-tie; Ankyloglossia: a birth defect in which the lingual fraenulum, a band of tissue under the tongue, anchors the tongue too tightly from below so that the tongue has a ‘W’ appearance when the affected person tries to protrude it. Tongue-tie may or may not affect speech, but all tongue ties should be checked any a SLP/SLT.
Tourette’s Syndrome: a severe neurological disorder characterised by multiple facial and other body tics, usually beginning in childhood or adolescence and often accompanied by grunts and compulsive utterances, for example, interjections and obscenities. Also called Gilles de la Tourette syndrome.
Verbal Communication: the parts of communication which are language based.
Verbal Reasoning: think about and solving problems using language.
Visual Timetable: the use of pictures and/or objects to represent different parts of a school day.
Vocabulary: the store of words a child knows and uses.
Voice Problem: a problem with the quality (hoarse/husky), pitch (too high or too low) or volume (too loud or too quiet) of the voice or with the control of the breath for speech.
Word Finding Difficulties: inability to reliably retrieve a known target word from memory.