Function of Speech Apparatus, its Component Organs, Types of Voice, and Characteristics

We explain what the speech apparatus is, its component organs and their functions. Also, what are its characteristics and types of voice.

What is the speech apparatus?

Organs that make up the speech apparatus.

Organs that make up the speech apparatus

  • Respiratory system . It uses the lungs, bronchi, trachea, and larynx .
  • Digestive .  It uses the teeth, lips, tongue, palate, glottis.

In addition, it uses specific organs of phonation such as the vocal cords.

Parts that make up the speech apparatus

The human speech apparatus is divided into two parts or subsystems:

  • Phonation system.  The one in charge of generating the jet of air loaded with sound waves, and that covers from the lungs to the vocal cords.
  • Articulation system.  The person in charge of modulating the sounds: cutting them off, modifying them, using the content of the mouth and lips.

How does the speech apparatus work?

The speech apparatus operates on the basis of different stages:

  • First, the lungs fill with air and, under the pressure of the diaphragm, are emptied by pushing a jet of air out of the body through the windpipe. The air thus propelled meets the vocal cords, which vibrate and fill the air with sound waves.
  • The voiced air reaches the larynx and pharynx, and instead of being exhaled through the nose, it is directed towards the mouth, where it will be modulated.
  • The jet of voiced air fills the mouth, and is released outwards after the organs of the mouth have been placed in the desired position to generate one or more specific sounds, either by opening or closing the oral cavity, positioning the tongue in the path of the air or by bouncing it off different parts of the palate.

Function of the speech apparatus

The elementary function of the speech apparatus is to  produce sounds  , which can also be articulated and transformed into a spoken chain, that is, into words, screams, screams, etc.

Evolution of the speech apparatus

Evolution of the speech apparatus

The ability to generate sounds such as roaring or barking  belongs to all mammals alike  . However, the ability to articulate these sounds and make a language of them is unique to the human being.

This differentiation was thanks to the gradual change of various organs. For example,  the lower larynx allows a greater resonance space in the mouth  and thus it is possible to produce a greater complexity of sound.

On the other hand, there was also an evolution at the level of the nervous system .  Our brain is not only capable of recognizing and learning languages  , but it also manages the speaking organs to produce the desired sounds.

Displacement of the larynx occurs in humans after the end of breastfeeding, unlike other primate species. Therefore,  we are unable to drink and breathe at the same time  , as we run the risk of drowning.

However, it is known that extinct species of the human genus, such as  Homo neanderthalensis  or  Homo rudolfensis  , lacking this lower larynx, were unable to pronounce certain vowels (such as  a  ,  i  or  u  ).

Types of sounds

The verbal language is composed of two types of sounds produced by the vocal apparatus, the fundamental difference is that  in one case the vocal cords vibrate (sound sounds) and others not (sounds deaf)  . Thus, for example, the sound of vowels is voiced (  a  ,  e  ,  i  ,  o  ,  u  ), while that of some consonants is deaf (  k  ,  s  ,  r  ,  f  ).

Voice types

Voice types

There are several types of voice ,  determined congenitally  , since the configuration of the vocal cords is as personal as the fingerprint of our fingers. Thus, six types of voice are recognized, three feminine and three masculine:

  • Soprano.  The highest voices in the human register, which on a piano would go between C4 and C6. They are divided into light sopranos, lyrical sopranos and dramatic sopranos.
  • Mezzo-soprano.  Of voices more serious than the sopranos, but less than the contraltos. They are divided into light and dramatic, being very similar to dramatic sopranos but in more serious registers.
  • Contralto.  Infrequent female voices, that pull towards the bottom of the spectrum, without becoming male voices.
  • Tenor.  The highest of the male spectrum, but in a fairly short range (on a piano, from C3 to C4). Like the sopranos, they are divided into light, lyrical and dramatic.
  • Baritone.  The most common of male voices, not being able to be very agile but powerful, within their intermediate range.
  • Under.  The lowest voices in the human register, the darkest and deepest, similar to the low notes of a cello.

Why is the speech apparatus important?

The speech apparatus  is essential for the emission of articulated sounds  and therefore for verbal language. This is one of the basic capabilities of our species that distinguishes us from animals.

However, animals also have a speech apparatus. For example, a dog is capable of barking, even barking in different ways depending on the occasion. In other words, it  is also essential for animals to communicate  , albeit in a rudimentary way.

What distinguishes us from them is the ability to acquire a language and  train our own body to reproduce a series of specific sounds  . For this we have not only a particular complexity of our speech apparatus but also a brain capable of understanding and creating signs.

Diseases that affect you

Diseases that affect you

Diseases of the voice apparatus can have different causes:

  • External agents.  They can cause respiratory tract infections (laryngitis, pharyngitis, bronchitis, pneumonia) causing swelling and affecting the quality of the voice.
  • Misuse or excessive use of the voice.  Its consequence can be hoarseness or hoarseness.


Kalum Talbot

MA student of the TransAtlantic Masters program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Political Science with a focus on European Studies. Expressed ideas are open to revision. He not only covers Technical articles but also has skills in the fields of SEO, graphics, web development and coding. .

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Definition of apparatus

  • accoutrements
  • accouterments
  • kit [ chiefly British ]
  • material(s)
  • materiel
  • paraphernalia

Examples of apparatus in a Sentence

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'apparatus.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

borrowed from Latin apparātus "act of preparing, display, trappings, equipment," from apparāre "to make ready, make preparations for" (from ad- ad- + parāre "to supply, provide, make ready") + -tus, suffix of verbal nouns — more at pare

circa 1628, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Phrases Containing apparatus

  • Golgi apparatus

Dictionary Entries Near apparatus


apparatus criticus

Cite this Entry

“Apparatus.” Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

Kids definition of apparatus, medical definition, medical definition of apparatus, more from merriam-webster on apparatus.

Nglish: Translation of apparatus for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of apparatus for Arabic Speakers

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The vocal cords are attached horizontally from the thyroid cartilage (the “Adam’s apple” in men) at the front to the arytenoid cartilages at the rear. By moving these cartilages as you speak, you alter the length and position of your vocal cords. When you start to say something, the arytenoid cartilages press the vocal cords against each other, thus closing the opening between them (known as the glottis).

Under the pressure of the air being exhaled, the vocal cords separate, then close again immediately, causing the air pressure beneath the glottis to increase again. By opening and closing the glottis rapidly during phonation, the vocal cords thus release the air from the lungs in a vibrating stream. When you speak a sentence, you modify the vibration frequency of your vocal cords many times to produce the acoustic vibrations (sounds) that are the raw materials for the words themselves.

For these sounds to be transformed into words, they must then be shaped by the rest of the vocal apparatus. The first step in this process occurs in the pharyngeal cavity, where the respiratory and digestive systems meet. The pharynx and the other cavities with which it communicates (the nasal cavities, mouth, and larynx) act as a “ resonator ” that alters the sounds issuing from your vocal cords, amplifying some frequencies while attenuating others.

The transformation of the sounds from the larynx is then completed by the position of the soft palate, tongue, teeth, lips, and other parts of the mouth, which act as “ modulators ” for this sound. While the larynx produces the vibrations without which you would have no voice, it is these other parts of your vocal apparatus that make your voice so flexible and versatile. They do so in different ways. Your he soft palate either blocks the passage to the upper nasal cavities or leaves it open so that the vibrating airstream can enter them. Your jaws open or close to change the size of the oral cavity. Your tongue changes shape and position to alter this cavity further. Your tongue and the lips obstruct the airflow through the teeth to varying extents. The lips also alter their shape—open, closed, pursed, stretched, and so on—to shape the sound further.

To produce the vowel sound “ee” (as in “teen”), for example, you must move your tongue toward the front of your palate, which widens the pharyngeal cavity while raising the larynx slightly. To produce the sound “ah” (as in “far”), you must lower your jaw and your tongue. To pronounce consonants, you must make various movements of the tongue and lips. For example, to pronounce an “F”or an “S”, you move your tongue and lips so as to slow the outgoing airstream. To pronounce a “B”, “P”, or “T”, you stop the airstream and then release it, with varying degrees of sharpness. To produce a “V” or a “J”, you make the airstream vibrate, and so on.

Is the human vocal apparatus essential for speech?

Scientists long believed that the main reason that other primates had never succeeded in mastering human language despite all the efforts that had been made to teach them (follow the blue Experiment Module link below) was that the particular anatomy of their vocal apparatus prevented them from doing so. In apes, as in human infants, the larynx is positioned very high in the neck, which would prevent it from producing all the sounds of human language. But this position does have certain advantages: for example, both apes and babies can breathe through their noses while continuing to eat.

In contrast, in adult humans, the low position of the larynx means that the pathways to the stomach and the lungs intersect, thus increasing the risks of choking. It therefore seems that the advantage that this descended larynx provides is a vocal communication system that makes this risk of choking worthwhile.

Modelling and simulation studies have shown, however, that the limited phonatory capabilities of the high-positioned larynx in primates and babies represent only a relatively minor handicap in terms of language. For that matter, the high position of the larynx in human babies does not prevent them from imitating the adult vowel sounds “ee”, “ah”, and “oo” from as early as 4 months of age, and from producing their first words 8 months later, when the larynx is still very high and the pharyngeal cavity is still very small. The reason that apes and younger babies cannot speak would therefore seem to be not that their larynx is too high, but rather that they lack the cognitive abilities needed to master language.

The descent of the larynx in the course of evolution

In Australopithecus , the larynx had not yet descended, so individuals transmitted information by means of cries and gestures. As early humans gradually adopted an erect posture, it gradually brought the position of their head back and up so that it tipped back at the base of the skull, thus causing the neck to emerge and the larynx to descend.

Since the base of the skull constitutes the roof of the vocal apparatus, the fossil record gives us some idea of when in evolutionary time the larynx descended. Indications of this descent have been found in skulls of Homo ergaster , from nearly 2 million years ago. A skull of Homo heidelbergensis found in Ethiopia shows that the larynx had almost reached its current position 600 000 years ago. These findings lead to the conclusion that a vocal apparatus capable of articulate language probably existed nearly half a million years before people began to speak.

It therefore seems unlikely that the human vocal apparatus was selected “for” language. It may have conferred some advantages in pre-linguistic communication, but was this a sufficient selective pressure? Some authors believe that this low position of the larynx may have afforded certain benefits with regard to breathing. Other authors point out that other animal species besides humans (deer, for example), also have low larynxes. These authors therefore believe that this anatomical characteristic may have evolved because it lets animals make sounds that lead others to believe that they are larger than they really are.

It would therefore not be surprising if the human vocal apparatus turned out to be an exaptation: in other words, an adaptation to pressures selecting for purposes other than speech, but whose result—a descended larynx—nevertheless facilitated the articulation of words.


  1. 1 Schematic of speech apparatus [13]

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    meaning of speech apparatus


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