Speech can be described as the act of producing sound through the use of the vocal chords or other means, such as sign language, to create linguistic acts that communicate information from a initiator to a recipient.

In more colloquial terms, speech can be described in several different ways:

  1. A linguistic act designed to convey information.
  2. Various types of linguistic acts where the audience consists of more than one individual, including public speaking, oration, and quotation.
  3. The physical act of speaking, primarily through the use of vocal chords to produce sound. See phonology and linguistics for more detailed information on the physical act of speaking.

However, speech can also take place inside one's head, known as intrapersonal communication, for example, when one thinks or utters sounds of approval or disapproval. At a deeper level, one could even consider subconscious processes, including dreams where aspects of oneself communicate with each other (see Sigmund Freud), as part of intrapersonal communication, even though most human beings do not seem to have direct access to such communication.

There are several factors that can affect the quality of speech as such. Among these are:

  1. Diseases and disorders of the lungs or the vocal chords, including paralysis, respiratory infections, and cancers of the lungs and throat.
  2. Diseases and disorders of the brain, including alogia, aphasias and speech processing disorders, where impaired perception of the message (as opposed to the actual sound) leads to poor speech production.
  3. Articulatory problems, such as stuttering, lisping, cleft palate, ataxia, or nerve damage leading to problems in articulation. Tourette syndrome and nervous tics can also affect speech.
  4. Problems in the perception of sound and auditory information can affect speech. In addition to aphasias, anomia and certain types of dyslexia can impede the quality of auditory perception, and therefore, expression. Hearing impairments and deafness can be considered to fall into this category.

Thus, it is clear that speech has both expressive and receptive elements. The purpose of speech can be to convey meaning or to increase social bonds between individuals and/or groups (it is often both). For the latter shallowness is not a problem. The success of a speech act depends on numerous factors, including the presence or absence of a variety of speech disorders, the ability of the speaker to express the intended message, and the ability and willingness of the audience to play the role of recipient.

Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking.