New 3D tongue images technology developed helps understand speech and accents


By Emer O’Toole

Researchers at five Scottish universities, including Strathclyde, have designed three-dimensional images to track tongue movement during speech.

Ultrasound Tongue Imaging is a relatively new technique that uses medical ultrasound machines to record the movement of the vocal tract when people speak.

This is combined with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology- which captures the complete vocal tract, including the larynx and the soft palate.

Academics have built an online database of recordings detailing speakers’ movement during regular speech.

The ‘Seeing Speech’ website publicly offers information regarding the movement of the vocal tract when people speak and will benefit teachers, healthcare professionals, academics and actors.

Claire Timmins, lecturer of Psychological Sciences and Health at Strathclyde, said: “This is a fantastic new web resource for anyone interested in how the tongue produces speech sounds.

“It provides clear, detailed images of speech production from a variety of English accents.”

The resource also includes a video database displaying accent differences in speech across types of English, which will help the research of accents and accent change.

The Carnegie Trust funded the investigation because presently, there are no resources that capture the inner workings of the mouth during speech.

‘Seeing Speech’ gives access to MRI and ultrasound videos, illustrating the tongues movement at full speed and half speed.

Commenting, Jane Stuart-Smith, Professor of Phonetics and Sociolinguistics at the Glasgow University – and Principal Investigator on the project – said:

“One problem encountered by phonetics teachers and students is that there is nothing out there that shows how speech sounds are actually formed.

“The only resources that we had to work with up to this point were static diagrams and models that break the vocal tract up into sections and provide a fragmented view of what are really synchronised, dynamic actions of the vocal organs.”