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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Imaging Cross-Linguistic Laryngeal Gestures

Linguists tend to divide all languages into 15 types, grouped by the different ways speakers make use of a muscular organ in the throat called the larynx to modulate speech. These laryngeal gestures are made by raising and lowering the larynx in the throat and constricting or spreading, stiffening or slackening the membranes the larynx stretches across the throat. But much of the work done to study laryngeal gestures has been indirect, using recorded sound instead of direct observation of the larynx at work.

“Imaging Cross-linguistic Laryngeal Gestures” will examine sounds from a set of languages — English, Russian, Thai and Hindi — using magnetic resonance imaging from two different aspects within speaking subjects. Using MRI techniques, we will observe the biomechanics of the larynx during the production of consonant sounds. Using functional MRI, we will map the regions of the brain active during particular laryngeal settings.

Our project combines for the first time UW–Madison’s exceptional expertise in both linguistics and neuroimaging physics. This collaboration will address a clinical need for baseline data across languages, inform teachers about needs of language learners who come from languages of different laryngeal types, and advance linguistic theory with more accurate models of speech sounds.

Principal Investigator

  • Joseph Salmons

Co-Principal Investigators

  • Andrew Alexander
    Medical Physics
  • Eric Raimy
  • Thomas Purnell