Speech and nonspeech: What are we talking about?

Edwin Maas

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Understanding of the behavioural, cognitive and neural underpinnings of speech production is of interest theoretically, and is important for understanding disorders of speech production and how to assess and treat such disorders in the clinic. This paper addresses two claims about the neuromotor control of speech production: (1) speech is subserved by a distinct, specialised motor control system and (2) speech is holistic and cannot be decomposed into smaller primitives. Both claims have gained traction in recent literature, and are central to a task-dependent model of speech motor control. The purpose of this paper is to stimulate thinking about speech production, its disorders and the clinical implications of these claims. The paper poses several conceptual and empirical challenges for these claims–including the critical importance of defining speech. The emerging conclusion is that a task-dependent model is called into question as its two central claims are founded on ill-defined and inconsistently applied concepts. The paper concludes with discussion of methodological and clinical implications, including the potential utility of diadochokinetic (DDK) tasks in assessment of motor speech disorders and the contraindication of nonspeech oral motor exercises to improve speech function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-359
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Speech-Language Pathology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 4 2017


  • Speech
  • nonspeech
  • speech motor control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Research and Theory
  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • LPN and LVN
  • Speech and Hearing


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