Clinical Linguistics for speech and therapy education

Author: Sara Howard


This article addresses issues in the teaching and learning of clinical linguistics for speech and language therapy (speech and language pathology) students.

Table of contents


Clinical linguistics is a core discipline at the centre of the interdisciplinary education of students training for a professional qualification in speech and language therapy/pathology (SLT) (see Internet links below for the QAA Benchmarking Statement on SLT education and for information on the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy). Yet, although articulatory phonetics has always had a role in SLT education, clinical linguistics as a whole has been a relative newcomer to the SLT curriculum, being gradually introduced from the late 1970s. In the UK the key figure behind this development was David Crystal, and a number of publications by him and his colleagues still provide a valuable introduction to the area for students (Crystal, 1981, 1982, 1984, 2001; Crystal, Fletcher & Garman, 1976).

Considering the professional role of the speech and language therapist/pathologist (SLT), it is clear why clinical linguistics is central to SLT education. SLTs work with individuals with all and any impairments of communication, from children with delayed language development or hearing impairment, to adults with a stammer or who are suffering the communicative effects of a stroke. The SLTs ultimate aim is to offer appropriate clinical management to patients. Information and skills from many disciplines (including the biomedical sciences, psychology, sociology, education and speech and language pathology) will contribute to the clinical process, but being able to make an accurate and detailed linguistic description of the patient’s communicative behaviours is a fundamental first step in the procedure (Perkins & Howard, 1995).

Because communication impairments can affect all aspects of language (sometimes in the same individual speaker), the SLT student ideally needs a thorough grounding in all the traditional “levels” of language (phonetics, phonology, grammar, and semantics), as well as in key areas such as pragmatics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, and linguistics as applied to language development, bilingualism and multilingualism. Both theoretical and practical aspects need to be covered. Practical/analytic skills such as phonetic transcription, instrumental phonetic analysis, syntactic analysis and conversational analysis may all be used to sample and analyse data. Various types of data may be used (and here issues of patient consent and confidentiality will be important to address), including audio and video recordings, transcripts, and corpora of atypical language (the CHILDES database contains some examples: see Internet links below). Computer-Assisted Learning techniques may give students the opportunity to work at their own pace with rich theoretical and practical material (see, for example, Beck, 1999 or Howard, Perkins and Martland, 2001).

It is important that clinical linguistics forms a thread which runs throughout all years of the course. A Spiral Curriculum model (Harden and Stamper, 1999), is one way of achieving this aim . It is also vital that the relevance of clinical linguistics is reinforced by effective integration with other aspects of the curriculum. Team-teaching may help here, as may a case-based/problem-based learning approach (March, 2000). Sharing data from a patient with a complex communication impairment across course modules can provide a rich illustration of how clinical linguistics informs and is informed by other disciplines in the description and explanation of atypical communication.

Clinical linguistics now has its own professional association, The International Clinical Phonetics and Linguistics Association and its own journal, Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics (see Internet links).


Beck, J. (1999). InterPHACE – Internetworked links for phonetic analysis in clinical education. Proceedings of ESCA/SOCRATES MATISSE (Method and Tool Innovations for Speech Sciences Education) (Eds, Hazan, V. & Holland, M. ) London: Department of Linguistics & Phonetics, UCL.

Crystal, D. (1981). Clinical Linguistics. Vienna: Springer-Verlag

Crystal, D. (1982). Profiling Linguistic Disability. London: Arnold.

Crystal, D. (1984). Linguistic Encounters with Language Handicap. Oxford: Blackwell.

Crystal, D. (2001). Clinical linguistics. In M. Aronoff & J. Rees-Miller (Eds.), The Handbook of Linguistics (pp. 673-682). Oxford: Blackwell.

Crystal, D., P. Fletcher & M. Garman (1976). The Grammatical Analysis of Language Disability. London: Arnold.

Harden, R.M. & N. Stamper (1999) What is a spiral curriculum? Medical Teacher 21, 141-143.,

Howard, S., M. Perkins & P. Martland (2001). An integrated multi-media package for learning clinical linguistics and phonetics. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders 36 (Supplement), 327-332

March, J.M. (Ed) (2000) Implementing Problem-based Learning. Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong

Perkins, M. & S. Howard (1995). Principles of Clinical Linguistics. In Case Studies in Clinical Linguistics (Eds, Perkins, M. & S. Howard) London: Whurr

Related links


QAA Benchmarking Statements

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy

The International Clinical Phonetics & Linguistics Association

Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics

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