Inadequate language is a defining feature of the autism spectrum disorders (autism). Autism is a behaviorally and dimensionally defined developmental disorder of the immature brain that has a broad range of severity and many etiologies, with multiple genes involved. Early studies, which focused on the language of verbal children on the autistic spectrum, emphasized aberrant features of their speech such as unusual word choices, pronoun reversal, echolalia, incoherent discourse, unresponsiveness to questions, aberrant prosody, and lack of drive to communicate. Persistent lack of speech of some individuals was attributed to the severity of their autism and attendant mental retardation rather than possible inability to decode auditory language. Clinical study of unselected children with autism indicated that the language deficits of preschoolers fall into two broad types, perhaps with subtypes, those that involve reception and production of phonology (sounds of speech) and syntax (grammar), and those that do not but involve semantics (meaning) and pragmatics (communicative use of language, processing, and production of discourse). Except for the preschoolers' universally deficient pragmatics and comprehension of speech, many of their language deficits parallel those of non-autistic preschoolers with developmental language disorders. There is now biological support for the clinical observation that young autistic children are language disordered as well as autistic. Recent electrophysiological studies disclose auditory input abnormalities in lateral temporal cortex even in verbal individuals on the autistic spectrum. Severe receptive deficits for phonology enhance the risk for epilepsy. Genetic studies indicate that linkage to chromosome 7q31-33 is limited to families with evidence for phonologic impairment as well as autism. Clearly, social and cognitive disorders alone provide an inadequate explanation for the range of language deficits in autism.