No AccessJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing ResearchResearch Article1 Mar 2017

Speaking Tongues Are Actively Braced


    Bracing of the tongue against opposing vocal-tract surfaces such as the teeth or palate has long been discussed in the context of biomechanical, somatosensory, and aeroacoustic aspects of tongue movement. However, previous studies have tended to describe bracing only in terms of contact (rather than mechanical support), and only in limited phonetic contexts, supporting a widespread view of bracing as an occasional state, peculiar to specific sounds or sound combinations.


    The present study tests the pervasiveness and effortfulness of tongue bracing in continuous English speech passages using electropalatography and 3-D biomechanical simulations.


    The tongue remains in continuous contact with the upper molars during speech, with only rare exceptions. Use of the term bracing (rather than merely contact) is supported here by biomechanical simulations showing that lateral bracing is an active posture requiring dedicated muscle activation; further, loss of lateral contact for onset /l/ allophones is found to be consistently accompanied by contact of the tongue blade against the anterior palate. In the rare instances where direct evidence for contact is lacking (only in a minority of low vowel and postvocalic /l/ tokens), additional biomechanical simulations show that lateral contact is maintained against pharyngeal structures dorsal to the teeth.


    Taken together, these results indicate that tongue bracing is both pervasive and active in running speech and essential in understanding tongue movement control.


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