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Man and woman in discussion. British English speech
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City awarded Leverhulme grant to investigate tongue-palate interactions in English speech sounds

The researchers will use a technique known as electropalatography to further explore the interaction

by George Wigmore (Senior Communications Officer)

City, University of London has been awarded a Leverhulme grant to investigate how the complex tongue-palate interactions in people who speak British English.

Speech in humans in incredibly sophisticated, and small changes in our mouth in terms of tongue position and also how it interacts with our palate results in the production of very different speech sounds.

To investigate these interactions, City University researchers – who are led by Dr Jo Verhoeven from the School of Health Sciences in collaboration with Dr Carlos Reyes-Aldasoro from the School of Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering – will record speech materials in order to study the contact patterns between the tongue and the palate.

During the articulation of speech sounds, the tongue makes contact with the roof of the mouth, but there are differences in how much contact it makes on the left and right side of the palate, leading to asymmetries.

The researchers will use a technique known as electropalatography, in which speakers wear a custom-made artificial palate which contains 62 electrodes spaced across its entire surface, to further explore the contact. These electrodes allow computer registration of tongue-palate contact during the pronunciation of speech sounds so that contact patterns can be analysed by specialised software.

In addition, the researchers also aim to investigate a range of factors which may explain speech asymmetries, such as the type of speech sound, speakers' hand preference (left, right) and the geometry of speakers’ palates using a novel methodology based on biomedical imaging techniques developed by Dr Reyes-Aldasoro.

Dr Jo Verhoeven said:

“By carrying out the first large scale study of speech asymmetries using this research methodology we hope to understand why they occur and whether they play an essential role in the production of speech sounds.

“This will lead to a more fundamental understanding of the speech production process and may find applications in the diagnosis and treatment of motor speech disorders. The findings will contribute to a better understanding of the complexities involved in speech production.”

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.