What Is Speech Science?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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The field of speech science entails a holistic focus on the studies of anatomy, neurology and acoustics. Though a particular focus is on finding ways to improve speech for disabled speakers, another broader realm of study is how the brain processes the information people choose to say as well as how they process what others are saying. In 2011, speech science has just uncovered how the same parts of the brain are responsible for both speaking and hearing — except for the part that moves the mouth, lips and diaphragm to give words flight.

A chief goal of any course of study in speech science is to impart an understanding in how the brain develops speech and processes the speech of others. In production alone, it takes about 100 muscles of the face, throat and lungs to form words fit for speaking. This does not even include the brain functions needed to tie all the actions into the seemingly singular action of speaking.


This fairly straightforward process is the main concern for speech therapists around the world. Air is produced in the lungs and forced upward, forming general phonic form in the throat and voice box, then a more articulated shape through contractions of the muscles in the mouth and face. Slight inflections in these muscle groups produce the myriad sounds and tones necessary for language expression. If someone has suffered a stroke or was born with a speech impediment, certain sounds may be difficult to make due to nerve damage or genetic inheritance, which means that a few or several of the muscles necessary for normal speech are paralyzed.

Another major concern of speech science is how the brain processes speech, which is known as audiology. This also combines physical and mental processes. Speech in the form of sound waves enter the listener's ear canal and bounces against the ear drum. The tonal and vibrational energy in each specific sound is then translated in the inner ear to become neural signals that the brain can process to convey meaning.

Though much of speech science deals with physical processes and debilitating pathological conditions, other researchers are equally concerned with the acoustics of speech. Speech scientists also study the nature of sound and how it moves between mouth to ear in beams of vibrating molecules. The length of each wave made by any given syllable or word will vary, as will its vibrational force, which is known as amplitude.


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