Eli5 What is the difference between being “mute” and being “nonverbal”?


Eli5 What is the difference between being “mute” and being “nonverbal”?

In: 11

Being “mute” means that a person is physically unable to speak or chooses not to speak, even though they have the ability to, while “nonverbal” means someone who doesn’t use spoken words to communicate, but may still use gestures, sign language, or other forms of communication to express themselves.

So, think of it like this: someone who is “mute” is like a TV with no sound – there’s no way for them to speak. Someone who is “nonverbal” is like a TV that’s on mute – they can still communicate, but not through spoken words.

There are multiple definitions of both words. They are similar, but in general, a “mute” person is incapable of speech, for any reason–it could be a physical defect (such as damage to the vocal chords) or a mental defect which prevents the brain from forming words and sending proper signals to the vocal chords to initiate speech.

A “nonverbal” person may be capable of speech but chooses–either consciously or subconsciously–not to speak. This may be the result of conditions such as autism, or someone who suffers severe mental trauma and simply refuses to speak at all. In such cases, the person is technically able to speak, and eventually, they may choose to speak, whereas a mute person simply cannot speak, no matter what (barring something like medical treatment capable of curing the mute condition).

in certain highly stressful situations, i go nonverbal.

i absolutely have the mental and physical ability to speak. however, usually as a stress response, my throat clamps shut and i cannot utter speech.

in contrast, there are some people who are mute. they lack the physical and/or mental ability to speak. this can include deaf folks, because the brain does not know what speech is supposed to sound like and this cannot attempt easily to make those sounds that are not heard.

Mute = can’t speak even if they want to

Non-verbal = may have the ability to talk but does not or will not

Selective Mutism = able to speak in some situations but not others
(I once had a student [preschool age] that could speak a few words at home, but was completely unable to speak to us at school at all)
After 1 1/2 of speech therapy we were finally able to get him to say a few things at school!

ooof ok a lot of these answers are wrong

verbal = having to do with words
non-verbal = no words

writing is verbality. texting is verbality
using an AAC device where you input words and the machine speaks – that’s being verbal

someone who is non-verbal means is someone who cannot create words, whether spoken or written

speaking = words in the form of mouth sounds
non-speaking = no words in the form of mouth sounds, cannot speak
mute = non-speaking

in terms of disability, “mute” is often considered inappropriate and demeaning language, or at the very least not-PC, or old-fashioned. that stigma doesn’t really seem to exist in the same way outside of a disability context so “she fell mute” doesn’t really have the same negative connotation as “she is mute”. so you might say “she fell mute” but “she is non-speaking”

in terms of disability, both non-speaking and non-verbal can be full time or part time things

other people in this thread have mentioned “selective”, but this is also language that shouldn’t be used, and is seen as similar to (or sometimes worse than “mute”). the larger issue here is that it’s not really correct. it implies choice and agency

“situational” is the preferred terminology. so “situationally non-verbal” or “situationally non-speaking” (depending on whether you’re talking about one or the other). *some* people will actually use “situationally mute” or “situational mutism” but it’s pretty rare

oh one other thing, “non” and “not” are very different here

“she is not speaking” says nothing about her ability or capacity to speak, it simply informs you that she is not doing the thing

“she is non-speaking” is talking about ability / capacity