Update: 2004-03-14 01:57 PM -0500


Anatomy of the vocal tract

from 126.138 (L02) General Phonetics, Instructor: Kevin Russell, http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/arts/linguistics/russell/138/sec1/anatomy.htm
email: krussll@ccu.umanitoba.ca

Downloaded and edited by U Kyaw Tun, M.S. (I.P.S.T., U.S.A.). Not for sale. Prepared for students of TIL Computing and Language Center, Yangon, MYANMAR. See reference materials used by UKT.

Anatomy of the Vocal tract

In addition to their normal names, many of the parts of the vocal tract have scientific names derived from Latin and Greek. The adjectives we use to describe sounds made with each part are usually based on the Latin/Greek name.

  common name scientific name adjective   common name scientific name adjective
  lips labia labial   teeth   dental
  alveolar ridge   alveolar   (hard) palate   palatal
  soft palate velum velar   uvula   uvular
  upper throat pharynx pharyngeal   voicebox larynx laryngeal
  tongue tip apex apical   tongue blade lamina laminal
  tongue body dorsum (back) dorsal   tongue root   radical

In phonetics, the terms velum, pharynx, larynx, and dorsum are used as often or more often than the simpler names.

alveolar ridge
A short distance behind the upper teeth is a change in the angle of the roof of the mouth. (In some people it's quite abrupt, in others very slight.) This is the alveolar ridge. Sounds which involve the area between the upper teeth and this ridge are called alveolars.

(hard) palate
the hard portion of the roof of the mouth. The term "palate" by itself usually refers to the hard palate.

soft palate/velum
the soft portion of the roof of the mouth, lying behind the hard palate. The tongue hits the velum in the sounds [k], [g], and [ ŋ ]. The velum can also move: if it lowers, it creates an opening that allows air to flow out through the nose; if it stays raised, the opening is blocked, and no air can flow through the nose.

UKT: The Bama equivalents of [k], [g], [ŋ] are represented by Myanmar letters {ka.}, {ga.} and {nga.}

the small, dangly thing at the back of the soft palate. The uvula vibrates during the r sound in many French dialects.

the cavity between the root of the tongue and the walls of the upper throat.

tongue blade
the flat surface of the tongue just behind the tip.

tongue body/dorsum
the main part of the tongue, lying below the hard and soft palate. The body, specifically the back part of the body (hence "dorsum", Latin for "back"), moves to make vowels and many consonants. See author's note

tongue root
the lowest part of the tongue in the throat

the fold of tissue below the root of the tongue. The epiglottis helps cover the larynx during swallowing, making sure (usually!) that food goes into the stomach and not the lungs. A few languages use the epiglottis in making sounds. English is fortunately not one of them.

vocal folds/vocal cords
folds of tissue stretched across the airway to the lungs. They can vibrate against each other, providing much of the sound during speech.

the opening between the vocal cords. During a glottal stop, the vocal cords are held together and there is no opening between them.

the structure that holds and manipulates the vocal cords. The "Adam's apple" in males is the bump formed by the front part of the larynx.

Author's note: note: the textbook tries to distinguish between sounds made with the backest part of the tongue body and sounds made with a fronter part of the tongue body. You may want to learn this distinction if you have nothing better to do with your time. I will consistently refer to all sounds made with the tongue body as "dorsal".

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