spoken language



A spoken language is a
language Language is a structured system of communication. The structure of a language is its grammar and the free components are its vocabulary. Languages are the primary means by which humans communicate, and may be conveyed through a variety of met ...

produced by articulate sounds or (depending on one's definition) manual gestures, as opposed to a
written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language by means of a writing system. Written language is an invention in that it must be taught to children, who will pick up spoken language or sign language by exposure even i ...
. An oral language or vocal language is a language produced with the vocal tract in contrast with a
sign language Sign languages (also known as signed languages) are languages that use the visual-manual modality to convey meaning, instead of spoken words. Sign languages are expressed through manual articulation in combination with non-manual markers. Sign l ...

sign language
, which is produced with the body and hands.


The term "spoken language" is sometimes used to mean only oral languages, especially by linguists, excluding sign languages and making the terms 'spoken', 'oral', 'vocal language' synonymous. Others refer to sign language as "spoken", especially in contrast to written transcriptions of signs.


In spoken language, much of a speaker's meaning is determined by the context. That contrasts with written language in which more of the meaning is provided directly by the text. In spoken language, the truth of a proposition is determined by common-sense reference to experience, but in written language, a greater emphasis is placed on logical and coherent argument. Similarly, the spoken language tends to convey subjective information, including the relationship between the speaker and the audience. (
, in formal or informal settings is an example.) Written language, on the other hand, is the common mode used to convey objective information. Both vocal and sign languages are composed of
word A word is a basic element of language Language is a structured system of communication. The structure of a language is its grammar and the free components are its vocabulary. Languages are the primary means by which humans communicate, ...

s. In vocal languages, words are made up from a limited set of
vowels A vowel is a syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels are one of the two principal classes of speech sounds, the other being the consonant In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound ...

consonants In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are and pronounced with the lips; and pronounced with the front of the tongue; and prono ...

, and often tone. In sign languages, words are made up from a limited set of shapes, orientations, locations movements of the hands, and often facial expressions; in both cases, the building blocks are called
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme () is a unit of sound that can distinguish one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West M ...
s. In both vocal and sign languages, words are grammatically and prosodically linked into
phrase In syntax and grammar, a phrase is a group of words or singular word acting as a grammatical unit. For instance, the English language, English expression "the very happy squirrel" is a noun phrase which contains the adjective phrase "very happy". ...
clause In language, a clause is a Constituent (linguistics), constituent that comprises a semantic predicand (expressed or not) and a semantic Predicate (grammar), predicate. A typical clause consists of a subject (grammar), subject and a syntactic Pred ...
s, and larger units of
discourse Discourse is a generalization of the notion of a conversation to any form of communication. Discourse is a major topic in social theory, with work spanning fields such as sociology, anthropology, continental philosophy, and discourse analysis. F ...


Relation between spoken and written language

The relationship between spoken language and written language is complex. Within the fields of
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and structure. Linguis ...

, the current consensus is that
speech Speech is a human vocal communication using language. Each language uses Phonetics, phonetic combinations of vowel and consonant sounds that form the sound of its words (that is, all English words sound different from all French words, even if ...

is an innate human capability, and written language is a cultural invention. However, some linguists, such as those of the Prague school, argue that written and spoken language possess distinct qualities which would argue against written language being dependent on spoken language for its existence.

Acquiring spoken language

Hearing children acquire as their
first language A first language, native tongue, native language, mother tongue or L1 is the first language or dialect that a person has been exposed to from birth or within the critical period hypothesis, critical period. In some countries, the term ''native ...
the language that is used around them, whether vocal, cued (if they are sighted), or signed. Deaf children can do the same with Cued Speech or sign language if either visual communication system is used around them. Vocal language are traditionally taught to them in the same way that written language must be taught to hearing children. (See
oralism Oralism is the Education of the deaf, education of deaf students through oral language by using lip reading, speech, and mimicking the Articulatory phonetics, mouth shapes and breathing patterns of speech.Through Deaf Eyes. Diane Garey, Lawrence ...
.) Teachers give particular emphasis on spoken language with children who speak a different primary language outside of the school. For the child it is considered important, socially and educationally, to have the opportunity to understand multiple languages.

See also


{{Authority control Speech Language varieties and styles