Faculty Books and Book Chapters

Speech (Building Blocks)

Speech (Building Blocks)

Book Title

Essays in Developmental Psychology


Randall Summers, Charles Golden, Lisa Lashley, & Erica Ailes


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The building blocks of language begin with the smallest distinguishable unit, the phoneme, and grow in complexity to convey meaning within a specific social context. The study of meaning is known as semantics. According to Kellogg (2003), the goal of semantic theories is to explain how individuals form mental representations of words and thus derive meaning from them. The smallest distinguishable unit of speech is the phoneme. A phoneme is essentially a unique speech sound, or phonological segment, that can alter the meaning of a word. For instance, if you examine the words “pat” and “cat” you will notice that the difference in meaning for each word is determined by the initial phoneme. The brain must be able to process these subtle differences in spoken language very quickly, as the typical rate of speech production involves approximately 12 phonological segments per second (Fodor, 1983).


language acquisition, meaning, mental representations, phoneme, semantics, social context, speech

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This is one in a collection of essays as part of a project that began as an encyclopedia of developmental psychology coordinated by Dr. Randall Summers. However, for unforeseen reasons, the publisher was no longer in a position to publish the encyclopedia. This project was undertaken so that thousands of hours of work by psychologists would not go wasted. Enjoy these essays and feel free to cite them using the proper format.

Submit suggestions for corrections and topics to goldench@nova.edu.

Speech (Building Blocks)