Many different small movements happen when we speak, many more than we realize. When thinking of the small word rush you assume there’s not much to it, but it is actually quite complex when you break it down and focus on all of the muscles and movements that are being used. In this word the mandible is both elevated and depressed, using many different muscles at once for this task. There are also many facial and glossal muscles involved with the movement of the lips and tongue placement as well. As defined by the textbook, “Articulation is the process of bringing the mobile and immobile articulators into contact for the purpose of shaping the sounds of speech produced by laryngeal vibration” (Seikel, 2013, p. 201). All of these movements are overlaid functions, so the actions can be connected. The full process can be broken down into three sections we can focus on to better understand it as a whole.
Respiration and Phonation
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As explained throughout chapters 2 and 3 of the textbook, Respiration and phonation are important aspects in the process of voicing, meaning one cannot happen without the other. We need breath to be able to speak. Respiration is the energy source behind phonation, which leads to the ability for us to voice and speak. Our breath is taken in by our nasal and/or oral cavities, which traces down to the lungs where the gas is processed and filtered by the alveoli. The carbon dioxide within the body is expelled after the oxygen is sent to the blood, and the diaphragm helps us build pressure again within our chest cavity by releasing the carbon dioxide through our trachea and out of our surface cavities once again. When we are preparing to speak our vocal folds are brought together by the arytenoid cartilages and various supporting muscles. When the air comes through the trachea pressure builds underneath the vocal folds they are blown apart, and the VF’s oscillate because of their natural elasticity, and this creates the vibrations needed to create sound (Seikel, 2013, p. 31-185). Without the help of respiration and phonation we would not be able to form the sounds we need for words and sounds. Respiration, phonation, and articulation all come together to help us form our words. The word “rush” can be broken down into three separate phonemes, being / r / for the beginning “r” sound, / ʌ / for the medial “uh” sound in the word, and / ʃ / for the final “sh” sound.
The “r” sound we make from a resting position requires a lot of work. One of the first movements I noticed when observing this word was the elevation the mandible from the natural resting position. This is done with the help of the mandibular elevator muscles, temporalis, masseter, and the medial pterygoid. These muscles help to elevate the mandible for many different purposes, and in this case it helps bring the mandible closer to the maxilla and in turn bringing the teeth closer together as well but they do not touch fully in my case. These muscles are innervated by CN V Trigeminal, and all work together for this movement of the mandible. It should stay in the elevated position for the duration of this sound.
The next movement to focus on would be the shaping of the lips. The two movements I can feel happening when observing this would be in the orbicularis oris, and the mentalis muscles. These two muscles contract around the mouth, forming the lips into a more rounded shape. These muscles are innervated by the CN VII Facial. The last significant movement to note would be the movement of the tongue from a relaxed state to a raised, frontal position. The tongue seems to reach towards the articulators alveolar ridge and teeth in this action, but they do not fully touch. The “r” sound is naturally voiced, so the vocal folds have a slight vibration to create this sound, and not much air is forced out of the oral cavity for this sound. The actions of the muscles needed are done through the contraction of the styloglossus and the superior longitudinal muscles of the tongue. These muscles are innervated by the hypoglossal nerve, known as CN XII. All of these motions happen simultaneously to shape these contracted positions from the resting position.
Some differences in the “r” sound with my group that I noticed what the amount of stress put on it. One group member put more stress and power behind the r sound when saying the word, but another member didn’t have much stress at all. When analyzing the differences I noticed I had an even level of stress so I did not put emphasis on the “r” sound. This slight variation had a major impact on the sound of the word from all three of us.
The next phoneme in the word rush would be the “uh” sound. Since the sound is connected to the “ruh” sound just before it, there would need to be a depression in the mandible to lower it back to a resting position. Therefore, the masseter, temporalis, and the medial pterygoid relax and allow the mandible to lower away from the maxilla. The mandibular depressors contract in this instance, moving the digastricus, mylohyoid, geniohyoid, and platysma muscles to create the lowered position of the jaw. The orbicularis oris and mentalis muscles both relax as well, moving the mouth from a circular shape, back to a more open and natural position. The depressor labii inferioris can also help with this movement, moving the lower lip down. The tongue lowers back to the original position as well, relaxing the styloglossus and the superior longitudinal muscles. The “uh” sound is a relatively relaxed one generally speaking, but the detail I noticed most about it was the position and how we say the sound. According to the vowel quadrilateral form my CD 239 course, the “uh” sound, transcribed with the symbol / ʌ / is located mid-central in the vocal tract. Meaning, the tongue advancement of this word is medial, and the sound happens in the back of the vocal tract (Vowel quadrilateral chart, 2020, p. 1). It is considered a lax sound, and it is voiceless in nature since there is no vibration of the vocal folds. The VFs in this situation would stay in the abducted state with the help of the arytenoid cartilages. Not much air is needed for this sound to be produced either, but it does produce slightly more than the / r /.
The “uh” sound was very similar between all three of us in this word. I believe it is because it is a connecting middle sound, and does not take much work at all to create. It's a passive phoneme and does not experience much variation because of the lack of specific articulation or voicing. With all three of us in the group, I didn’t notice anything necessarily profound about the difference of this sound.
The “sh” sound we create to complete to word is very similar to the “r” sound in nature. The masseter, medial pterygoid, and the temporalis all contract to raise the mandible once again through the same CN V innervation, but this time the mandible and maxilla is brought fully together, touching the teeth together lightly for this sound. The orbicularis oris and mentalis both constrict once again to form the rounded mouth shape, but there are notable differences with this motion. The buccinator also constricts, using the CN VII facial innervation. This movement makes the rounded shape of the mouth more tense than the shape of “r”. This muscle also helps to make the oral cavity slightly smaller as a whole, forming the pathway for the phoneme. The tongue is also constricted in this position as well, using the styloglossus and the superior longitudinal muscles to tense and raise the tongue once again, but the tongue touches more towards the hard palate for better articulation in this word. / ʃ / is a voiceless phoneme, but this sound uses the most air to be exerted through the oral cavity.
In our group the pronunciation of “sh” was also pronounced differently in a way. The member that pronounced more stress on the “r” lacked any sort of stress or focus on this last sound. The other member however, put almost all stress on this sound, disregarding any prior stress at the beginning of the word.
The articulation theory and its various working parts are very helpful when understanding how phonation works. The different theories of articulation all work together in a seamless chain of messages and action control to form and perform what we need to speak. According to the PowerPoint from class, the process starts with the conceptual system to process what is being said, which leads to the processing and planning of information in the phonological system, actually performing the actions happens within the muscle movement system, and coarticulation brings the sounds together as an overlaid function (Rutherford, 2020, slide 13). These functions all come together to describe how we articulate, and the next two slides explain the two different theories connected to articulation. Central Control Theory is considered as a main control for all motor functions when considering speech, while the Dynamic/Action Theory Model is a set of components that achieve articulation (Rutherford, 2020, slides 13, 14). These theories are very important in the true understanding of exactly how articulation works and how it is performed.
We don’t think much about our communication when we are speaking casually, but when you break down what we’re actually doing it’s so much more complex. It’s amazing that we can do all of these actions simultaneously without much thought, all we know is we plan what we’re going to say, and our cranial nerves send signals to our muscles to cover the rest. This makes me wonder just how different pronunciation and forming words is for someone that had to undergo extensive speech therapy to gain and/or restore this seemingly natural ability. Even the slight variations formed in each person is significant, meaning one does not need prior speech difficulty to say a word differently. Simply between the three of us showed multiple variations in the simple word, like the location of stress or the lack thereof.
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