Development of velopharyngeal closure for vocalization during the first 2 years of life

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Abstract

Purpose: The vocalizations of young infants often sound nasalized, suggesting that the velopharynx is open during the 1st few months of life. Whereas acoustic and perceptual studies seemed to support the idea that the velopharynx closes for vocalization by about 4 months of age, an aeromechanical study contradicted this (Thom, Hoit, Hixon, & Smith, 2006). Thus, the current large-scale investigation was undertaken to determine when the velopharynx closes for speech production by following infants during their first 2 years of life. Method: This longitudinal study used nasal ram pressure to determine the status of the velopharynx (open or closed) during spontaneous speech production in 92 participants (46 male, 46 female) studied monthly from age 4 to 24 months. Results: The velopharynx was closed during at least 90% of the utterances by 19 months, though there was substantial variability across participants. When considered by sound category, the velopharynx was closed from most to least often during production of oral obstruents, approximants, vowels (only), and glottal obstruents. No sex effects were observed. Conclusion: Velopharyngeal closure for spontaneous speech production can be considered complete by 19 months, but closure occurs earlier for speech sounds with higher oral pressure demands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-560
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Volume61
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing

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