Very rarely even today are students told that [learning] the new language means learning a new phoneme system and yet this is a basic and indispensable part of what they are trying to acquire."" In this articulate popularization, Dennis Fry, Professor of Phonetics and Linguistics at University College, London, explains what language is, how we hear and understand speech, the role of the brain, and what can go wrong in the process. All speech can be analyzed into distinct phonemes--the basic vowel and consonantal sounds of a given language--and morphemes: larger units which in English include the ""-ings"" and ""-uns"" used in building words. These are then strung together according to rules of syntax into meaningful sentences. How children acquire speech has been studied for some time, and Fry summarizes the findings, emphasizing the importance of detecting heating loss early and using hearing aids so handicapped children can learn as near-normal speech as possible. The importance of auditory feedback, redundancy, and expectation, and a variety of auditory cues are explained, as well as some of the technicalities of pitch, overtones, and resonance--clues used to distinguish between similar sounds. Later chapters discuss the contribution of right and left cerebral hemispheres in comprehending speech and musical patterns, and the ability to recover speech in some cases of stroke or other brain damage. Fry saves for the last chapter speculations on speech in relation to thinking and emotions. His style is English-lecturer-addressing-literate-audience, sometimes a little repetitive, a little technical, but on the whole, well suited to the task.