Imagine that your neighbor greets you with a cheery "Good morning" but that when you open your mouth to respond, nothing comes out. Something you've take for granted -- the ability to speak -- is taken away and you find yourself unable to communicate fear, confusion and anxiety. Although you don't give your speech organs much thought, they are integrally tied to your everyday life and relationships.
Full of Hot Air
The lungs are located in the chest cavity and expand and contract to push air out of the mouth. Simple airflow is not enough to produce speech, however. The airflow must be modified by other speech organs to be more than just respiration. When you exhale, air moves out of your lungs through your windpipe or trachea. At the top of the trachea is one of the primary organs of speech -- the larynx, or voice box.
Humming and Buzzing
The larynx is covered by a flap of skin called the epiglottis. The epiglottis blocks the trachea to keep food from going into your lungs when you swallow. Across the larynx are two thin bands of tissue called the vocal folds, or vocal cords. Depending on how the folds are positioned, air coming through the trachea makes them vibrate and buzz -- a sound which is called a voiced or soft sound. Place your finger tips over your Adam's apple -- another name for the larynx -- at the front of your neck. Hum and you'll feel the vibrations of your vocal folds.
Tiptoe Through the Tulips
The oral cavity, or the inside of your mouth, controls the shape of words. At the back of the oral cavity on the roof of the mouth is the soft palate or velum. When you pronounce oral sounds, such as "cat" or "bag," the velum is up to block air flow through the nasal cavity. When you pronounce nasal sounds, such as "can" or "mat," the velum drops down to allow air to pass through the nasal cavity. In front of the velum is the hard palate. Your tongue presses or taps against the hard palate when you pronounce certain words, such as "tiptoe."
Teeth and Thank You
Say "Thank you." Feel how your tongue presses against the inside of your front teeth. The convex area directly behind your teeth is known as the teeth ridge. For the purpose of linguistics, the tongue is divided into three regions. The tip of the tongue, which touches the teeth ridge, is called the blade. The middle of the tongue, which lines up with the hard palate, is called the front of the tongue. Finally, beneath the soft palate is the back of the tongue. The final speech organ is the most visible and obvious -- the lips. Your lips influence the shape of the sounds leaving the oral cavity.
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