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How we Produce Speech

We produce speech breathing out and modifying the air in a variety of ways to produce individual sounds which are organised to produce complete words and sentences. Collectively, the parts of the body that perform these actions are known as the speech organs and they each perform a different function.

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The lungs contract to push air along the throat and through the larynx.


The larynx is commonly known as the ‘voice box’ because this is where voice is added. The larynx contains two folds of skin which come together to block the flow of air or come apart to allow the air to pass freely.


However, when the folds are only partly open, they vibrate to produce a buzzing sound which we call ‘voice’. The speed of vibration can be controlled to produce different tones.

At the top of the throat the air is directed through the mouth or the nose by the velum. The velum is commonly known as the ‘soft palate’ because it is a fold of soft tissue which can be raised or lowered to block the flow of air one way and release it the other.

In the mouth the air must pass the tongue, which is a large muscle and the most important articulator for speech; it’s incredibly flexible and capable of producing a variety of different sounds.


Different parts of the tongue are used in the articulation of different sounds including the tip, blade, front, back and root.


The parts of the tongue are often described in relation to other parts of the mouth when classifying sounds, including the lips, teeth, alveolar ridge, hard palate and velum.

See The Sounds of English for information about how English sounds are produced and classified.

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