Speech error

A speech error is a speech pattern that differs from some standard pattern. Speech errors are common among children, who have yet to refine their speech, and can frequently continue into adulthood. They sometimes lead to embarrassment and betrayal of the speaker's regional or ethnic origins. However, it is also common for them to enter the popular culture as a kind of linguistic "flavoring".

Speech errors may be used intentionally for humorous effect, as with Spoonerisms.

Within the field of psycholinguistics, speech errors fall under the category of language production. Types of speech errors include: exchange errors, perseveration, anticipation, shift, substitution, blends, additions, and deletions. The study of speech errors contributes to the establishment/refinement of models of speech production.

Types of speech errors


Language has a very specific structure, rules and vocabulary. When we see movies or read books, the characters seem to speak perfectly. Time the words just right, no hesitations, no repetitions of words, appropriate intonation, right speed, pitch and volume. But ideal delivery is purely hypothetical. We strive for it but it’s impossible because we’re always at maximum capacity while speaking and errors are inevitable.

Speech production

The production of spoken language involves three major levels of processing . According to current models of the production lexicon, the first is the processes of conceptualization that connects the intention to speak and the concepts to be verbally expressed. The second is the process of formulation, which is the creation of the linguistic form of the idea meant to be expressed. This process can be broken down into the processes of grammatical encoding, which is the selection of semantically appropriate lexical items and the generation of a syntactic frame, and phonological encoding, which is the choosing of a phonetic form for the intended utterance. The third level is the processes of articulation, involving the retrieval of the phonetic plan, as well as the initiation and execution of articulation ).

A conversation can be viewed a as a sequence of conversational moves used by the speaker to convey his meanings and intentions. People tend to improvise using slang words, repeated words, pause, and use what ) called performance additions: they offer support, sometimes interrupt, and challenge the sentence goals. They also have preconditions that specify context for their appropriate use. These performance additions are used in are one of the main differences between spontaneous speaking and writing.

Why do we feel the need to use these spontaneous additions while talking and in what way do they serve our purpose? These questions will be discussed in this article through several different views. Performance additions have been viewed in 3 different approaches: the fist approach, endorsed by traditional linguistics, views them as “errors” that are not part of the language and so should not be researched within the linguistic science. The second approach views the performance additions as errors as well but claim they should be researched for what they reveal about our process of language production. And lastly, the third approach views that at least some performance additions are a part of language ().

Information obtained from Performance additions

An example for the information that can be obtained is the use of Um and uh in a conversation (. These might be meaningful words that tell different things, one of them is to hold your place in the conversation so no one will interrupt you. There seem to be a hesitant stage and fluent stage that suggest speech has different levels of producing. The pauses seem to occur between sentences, conjunctional points and before the first content word in a sentence. That suggests that a large part of speech production happens there.

(1991) conducted an experiment to examine if the numbers of word choices affect pausing. They sat in on the lectures of 47 undergraduate professors from 10 different departments and calculated the number and time of filled pauses and unfilled pauses. They found significantly more pauses in the humanities departments as opposed to the natural sciences. These findings suggest that the greater the numbers of word choices, the more frequent are the pauses, and hence the pauses serve to allow us time to choose our words.

Slips of the tongue are another form of “errors” that can help us understand the process of speech production better. Slips can happen at many levels, at the syntactic level, at the phrasal level, at the lexical semantic level, at the morphological level and at the phonological level and they can take more than one form like: additions, substations, deletion, exchange, anticipation, perseveration, shifts, and haplologies (). Slips are orderly because language production is orderly.

There are some biases shown through slips of the tongue. One kind is a lexical bias which shows that the slips people generate are more often actual words than random sound strings. Baars Motley and (1975) found that it was more common for people to turn 2 actual words to 2 other actual words than when they don’t create real words. This suggests that lexems might overlap somewhat or be stored similarly.

A second kind is a semantic bias which shows a tendency for sound bias to create words that are semantically related to other words in the linguistic environment. (1976) found that a word pair like “get one” will more likely slip to “wet gun” if the pair before it is “damp rifle”. These results suggest that we are sensitive to how things are laid out semantically.

See also


  • Baars, B.J., Motley, M.T., Mackay, D.G. (1975). Output editing for lexical status in artificially elicited slips of the tongue. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 14, 382-392.
  • Bock, J. K. (1982). Toward a cognitive psychology of syntax. Psychological Review, 89, 1-47.
  • Clark & Fox Tree (2002), Using uh and um in spontaneous speaking. Cognition 84 (2002) 73–111
  • Garrett, M. F. (1975). The analysis of sentence production. In G.Bower (Ed.), Psychology of learning and motivation: Vol. 9 (pp. 133-177). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Garrett, M. F. (1976). Syntactic processing in sentence production. In E. Walker & R. Wales (Eds.), New approaches to language mechanisms (pp. 231-256). Amsterdam: North-Holland.
  • Garrett, M. F. (1980). Levels of processing in sentence production. In B. Butterworth (Ed.), Language production: Vol. 1. Speech and talk (pp. 177-220). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Jescheniak, J.D., Levelt, W.J.M (1994). Word Frequency Effects in Speech Production: Retrieval of Syntactic Information and of Phonological Form. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Vol. 20, (pp. 824-843)
  • Levelt, W. J. M. (1989). Speaking: From intention to articulation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Reichman, R. (1981). Plain Speaking: A Theory and Grammar of Spontaneous Discourse. Cambridge, MA
  • Schachter, S., Christenfeld, N., Ravina, B., & Bilous, F. (1991). Speech disfluency and the structure of knowledge. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60 (3), 362–367.

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