Speech Development

  • Michael Studdert-Kennedy
Part of the Readings from the Encyclopedia of Neuroscience book series (REN)


Every natural language deploys a large lexicon, constructed by permutation and combination of a few dozen segments (consonants and vowels). Contrasts among these segments may be described in terms of a small number of phonetic features, defined by the coordinated actions of several more or less independent articulators (jaw, lips, tongue, velum, larynx). The task for a child learning to speak is to reproduce, or imitate, the patterns of articulatory gesture specified by the acoustic structures of the words heard. A capacity to imitate vocalizations is confined to a few species of songbird, certain marine mammals, and humans. That this capacity calls on specialized neural mechanisms in humans is further argued by the fact that the capacities both to perceive the phonetic structure of an unknown word and to speak at all are functions of the left cerebral hemisphere in most normal adults.

Further reading

  1. Eimas PD (1985): The perception of speech in early infancy. Sci Am 252:46–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Locke J (1983): Phonological Acquisition and Change. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  3. Menyuk P, Menn L (1979): Early strategies for the perception and production of words and sounds. In: Language Acquisition, Fletcher P, Garman M, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Oller DK (1980): The emergence of the sounds of speech in infancy. In: Child Phonology, Vol 1, Yeni-Komshian GH, Kavanagh JF, Ferguson CA, eds. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  5. Studdert-Kennedy M (1985): Sources of variability in early speech development. In: Invariance and Variability of Speech Processes, Perkell JS, Klatt DH, eds. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1989

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  • Michael Studdert-Kennedy

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