Workshops > Workshop 3A: 3:45-5:30

Ultrasound for studying articulatory variation

Jeff Mielke
University of Ottawa

This workshop will provide participants with an overview of articulatory imaging techniques, a survey of studies of variation which employ ultrasound imaging, information about what is needed to do research with ultrasound, and an opportunity to view their own vocal tracts using an ultrasound ma­chine. The intended audience is linguists who already study variation and may be interested in the possibility of employing articulatory imaging in their work. Linguists who are interested in using ultrasound for other purposes like fieldwork, phonetics or phonological studies, or pedagogical applications would also likely benefit from the workshop.

Ultrasound has several advantages with respect to other articulatory imag­ing techniques such as Electromagnetic Midsagittal Articulometry (EMA), x-ray microbeam, and MRI, which make it well suited to the study of vari­ation. Ultrasound is safe, non-invasive, relatively inexpensive, and portable. It provides high temporal resolution, and images the tongue surface from near the root to near the tip. An ultrasound study is only slightly more complicated to set up than an acoustic study, making it feasible to study large numbers of participants.

Ultrasound has been used to study articulatory variation that is not acoustically apparent, such as the bunched and retroflex allophones of /r/ in North American English (Mielke et al., to appear) and the articulation of inaudible postvocalic /r/ in Scottish English (Scobbie and Stuart-Smith, 2006; Stuart-Smith, 2007), and to explore the phonetic basis for variants, such as [str] vs. [ʃtr] in North American English (Baker et al., 2006). These and other studies will be overviewed in the workshop, to provide a basis for imagining future ultrasound studies.

Finally, workshop participants will have the opportunity to look at their own tongues in action. The machine is laptop-based, so it can be brought to the workshop and connected to the LCD projector.


Baker, Adam, Jeff Mielke, and Diana Archangeli. 2006. Top-down and bottom-up influences in English s-retraction. NWAV 35, Columbus.

Mielke, Jeff, Adam Baker, and Diana Archangeli. To appear. Variability and homogeneity in American English /ɹ/ allophony and /s/ retraction. In Variation, Detail, and Representation (LabPhon 10). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Scobbie, James, and Jane Stuart-Smith. 2006. Where the [l] [r] they? an ultrasound tongue imaging study of Scottish English liquids. British As­sociation of Academic Phoneticians (BAAP).

Stuart-Smith, Jane. 2007. A sociophonetic investigation of postvocalic /r/ in Glaswegian adolescents. In Proceedings of the XVIth International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, 1307. Saarbrücken.