Phonetics - Unit One - Lesson No. 3

Speech organs

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to describe the various speech organs.
1. The Pharynx

The pharynx is a tube which begins just above the larynx. It is about 7 cm long in women and about 8 cm long in men. At its top end, it is divided into two parts, one part beginning the back of the mouth and the other being the beginning of the way through the nasal cavity.

2. The Velum

The velum or soft palate allows air to pass through the nose and mouth. In speech, it is raised so that air cannot escape through the nose. The other important thing about velum is that it is one of the articulators that can be touched by the tongue. When we make sounds [k, g], the tongue is in contact with the lower side of the velum; we call these velar consonants.

3. Uvular

The uvular is a projection of tissue that hangs down from the middle of the soft palate over the back of the tongue. In singers, the uvular has been claimed to function in the generation of the vibrato or wavy up-and-down sounds.

4. The Hard Palate

The hard palate is often called the “roof of the mouth”. The front portion of the palate is constructed of bones (specifically tow bones called the maxilla and palatine) covered with a mucus membrane.

The (hard) palate also functions in speaking and singing. When sounds emerge from the chest, the sound waves that have been produced by the vocal cords bounce off the hard palate and out the mouth. The hard palate directs and resonates.

Formation of the hard palate occurs during development of the fetus. Improper formation of the hard palate occurs in one of every 200-1000 babies. This condition, known as cleft palate, is correctable by surgery. Its cause is still unresolved. A combination of inherited traits and some environmental factors in the mother’s womb are suspected of causing the abnormality.

The interaction between the tongue and the hard palate is essential in the formation/ production of certain speech sounds such as [ʃ, ʐ, j].

5. Alveolar Ridge

The alveolar ridge is between the top from teeth and the hard palate. It can be felt with the tongue. Its surface is really much tougher than it feels, and is covered with little ridges. Sounds made with tongue touching here such as [t, d] are called alveolar.

6. The Tongue

The tongue is, of course, a very important articulator and it can be moved into many different places and different shapes. It is usual to define the tongue into different parts, though there are no clear dividing lines within the tongue. These parts are tip, blade, front, back and root.

7. The Teeth

The teeth (upper and lower) are at the front of the mouth, immediately behind the lips, to the sides of the mouth, back almost to the soft palate. The tongue is in contact with the upper side teeth for many speech sounds. Sounds made with the tongue touching the front teeth are called dental, e.g. [ð].

8. The Lips

The lips are important in speech. They can be pressed together (when we produce the sounds [p, b]), brought into contact with the teeth (as in [f, v]) or rounded to produce the lip shape for the vowels like [u:]. Sounds in which the lips are in contact with each other are called bilabial, while those with the lip-to-teeth contact are called labiodentals.

9. The Larynx

The larynx is in the neck. It has several parts (thyroid cartilage, cricoid cartilage, tracheal rings). Its main structure is made of cartilage, a material that is similar to bone but less hard. The larynx’s structure is made of two large cartilages. These are hollow and are attached to the top of the trachea; when we breathe, the air passes through the trachea and the larynx. The front of the larynx comes to a point and you can feel this point at the front of your neck, particularly if you were a man and/or slim. This point is commonly called the Adam’s apple.

Inside the box made by these two cartilages are the vocal folds, two thick flaps of muscles rather like a pair of lips; an older name for these is vocal cords. Looking down the throat is difficult to do, and requires special optical equipment.

At the front, the vocal folds are joined together and fixed to the inside of the thyroid cartilage. At the back, they are attached to a pair of small cartilages called the arytenoid cartilages sot that if the arytenoid cartilages will move, the vocal folds will move too.

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