Speech production is the process of turning the intent to say a word into articulated speech, using the brain and vocal apparatus. Speech sounds are an important mode of communication for human beings around the world, and substantial research surrounds the various processes involved in speaking. People can also communicate in other ways, such as through sign language, written communications, and tools like communication boards, where people point at pictures or words representing various concepts.
People produce speech in a number of settings, including spontaneous conversations, in response to prompts like a request to name something, and in speech mimicry and memorization. The process starts in the brain, where people process concepts and turn them into words so they can signal the vocal cords to actually produce sounds. This can happen extremely rapidly, and speech may seem instantaneous because the brain is capable of very fast calculations and responses.
Numerous things can go wrong with speech production. People may have neurological conditions that interfere with speech, ranging from persistent developmental stuttering to memory problems where they cannot recall words, and thus have difficulty articulating speech. Physical problems like vocal cord disease may also be an issue, and patients can have temporary problems like inability to speak because of a tracheotomy. People can also experience psychological barriers to speech production, like selective mutism.
Researchers who focus on speech disorders study patients to learn about the myriad problems that can interfere with speech production. In a simple example, people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or have auditory processing disorders, have difficulty hearing speech sounds from the people around them. They do not learn to speak by mimicking, and may speak with a strong accent and have difficulty articulating themselves. In therapy programs to help people in this position improve their speech production, speech-language pathologists can use a variety of tools to assist their patients.
The study of speech production also concerns the development of tools to allow people to speak in the wake of illness or injury that prevents articulating speech. People can use devices like speech synthesizers if they are unable to speak as a result of paralysis, vocal cord injury, and other problems. Understanding how and why speech production problems arise can also help people treat them more effectively, as well as providing patients with coping tools to assist them with spoken communication during treatment or in cases where they will never recover the ability to speak.