Coarticulation as an Indicator of Speech Motor Control Development in Children: An Ultrasound Study

in Motor Control

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Natalia Zharkova
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Nigel Hewlett
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William J. Hardcastle
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There are still crucial gaps in our knowledge about developmental paths taken by children to adult-like speech motor control. Mature control of articulators during speaking is manifested in the appropriate extent of coarticulation (the articulatory overlap of speech sounds). This study compared lingual coarticulatory properties of child and adult speech, using ultrasound tongue imaging. The participants were speakers of Standard Scottish English, ten adults and ten children aged 6–9 years. Consonant-vowel syllables were presented in a carrier phrase. Distances between tongue curves were used to quantify coarticulation. In both adults and children, vowel pairs /a/-/i/ and /a/-/u/ significantly affected the consonant, and the vowel pair /i/-/u/ did not. Extent of coarticulation was significantly greater in the children than in the adults, providing support for the notion that children’s speech production operates with larger units than adults’. More within-speaker variability was found in the children than in the adults.

The authors are with the Speech Science Research Centre, Queen Margaret University, Musselburgh, UK.

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