Speaking Tongues are Actively Braced

“Results indicate that tongue bracing [lateral margin stabilization]
is both pervasive and active in running speech and
essential in understanding tongue movement control.”
-- Gick, Allen, Roewer-Despres, and Stavness
JSLHR, March, 2017. Vol. 60, p. 494 


IT’S OFFICIAL!  Current research acknowledges what many of us, as therapists, have known and applied for quite some time.  The sides of the tongue anchor to the sides of the teeth during speaking.  But that’s just the beginning of the story….

We have used the “lateral margin stabilization” term and technique in our therapy with our kids for several years.  I have personally presented the concepts of speech stabilization and mobilization in my seminars and publications, as did Pam Marshalla for at least 30 years. 

Until now, it has not been “recognized” in our field.  Although it was not researched and written by SLPs, the article was published by ASHA. 

Following is a synopsis of “Speaking Tongues are Activity Braced.” 

Purpose:  Bracing of the tongue has long been studied.  However, previous studies describe bracing only in terms of contact rather than mechanical support, and only in limited phonetic contexts and specific sounds. 

Discussion:  They suggest several reasons that lingual bracing is important in speech production: (please refer to the article for references) 

  1. To facilitate the mechanics of certain kinds of tongue movement. [Char: This refers to the tongue movements to produce “t, d, n, s, z, sh, zh, ch, and j”; and the lingual contouring for high-front and high-back vowels. / Back-tongue consonants “k, g, ng, r” are also stabilized, but in the back retromolar region.]
  2. To provide somatosensory feedback for tongue positioning. [Char: “Somatosensory feedback” refers to the tongue’s capability to tactually and proprioceptive find and maintain its lingual-dental placement during speaking. Rather like your fingers that return to home-row as you type on your keyboard.]
  3. To separate the central oral tract aeroacoustically from the lateral buccal cavities. [Char:  The lateral lingua-dental “seal” channels the airflow centrally.] 

Method:  This study tests the pervasiveness and effortfulness of tongue bracing (sides of the tongue on the top, side teeth) in continuous English speech passages using electropalatography and 3-D biomechanical [computer] simulations. 

Results:  The tongue remains in continuous contact with the upper molars during speech, with only rare exceptions.  Use of the term bracing (rather than merely contact) is an active posture requiring dedicated muscle activation.  [Char: the tongue-sides applies as-needed lateral pressure against the top, side teeth, for stabilization during speech sound mobilization.] 

Conclusion:  The results indicate that tongue bracing is both pervasive and active in running speech and essential in understanding tongue movement control. 

It is also known that the intrinsic tongue muscles contract and stabilize during speech production.  We covered mid-tongue contraction in last week’s Therapy Matters, “A Remarkable Method to Lift the Front-Tongue [for ALL Front-Tongue Sounds].” 

Therapy Techniques 

In addition to using a mirror and physically demonstrating with my mouth, I’ve used the following techniques to localize the sides of the tongue, the insides of the top back teeth, and the perimeter of the palate.  This lingua-dental contact and anchorage is necessary as we build the capability and stimulate front-tongue speech sounds.  

Keep in mind, this lingua-dental contact also occurs when the tongue is at rest (in between speaking and swallowing).  The tongue rests in the same position where bracing takes place for speech production. 

  • Side-Stroke-Match: With an oral tool (small tongue depressor, Ark Probe, Z-Vibe, Nuk Brush), stroke the sides of the tongue and the sides of the teeth (back to front), and match.  Put them together.  Take a moment for the child to focus, find, and feel the contacts and positioning.  Do numerous times so the child acclimates to the elevated and lateralized target up within the dental arch.
  • Bite-Slide: Bite gently, but intentionally, on the sides of the tongue with the side teeth; do several “bites.”  Then (with their eyes closed to heighten the intra-oral focus), bite the back-teeth together and slide the whole tongue up the side teeth to the top.  Focus and feel and emphasize the tongue-sides on the side teeth.  Do several times.
  • Use a Mouth-Model: My favorite mouth model is the Ajax Scientific Mouth Model (Amazon.com); it’s big enough to put your hand into.  This one’s obvious.  Physically show, touch, and place your hand-tongue on the side teeth.  Ask the child to do the same so he/she can feel and see the placement.  Replicate intra-orally.
  • Stand in a Doorway: Demo this “doorway” activity first, then let the child do it.  Stand straight in the middle of a doorway.  To simulate the tongue up within the dental arch and its contact and pressure against the side teeth, lift your arms and place them on each side of the doorway, and push laterally.  This represents the lateral margin bracing of the tongue against the side teeth.  

The tongue’s bracing or stabilization occurs when the tongue exerts sufficient lateral pressure against the insides of the top, back teeth.  This anchorage enables the front-tongue to move vertically and interact with the alveolar ridge and palate for speech sounds during connected speech. 

Emphasize the placement and the sensory feedback; give the child time to discern the placement and feel of the sides of the tongue on the side teeth before you apply it to the speech sound. 

Think this would be important when working with lateral cases?  Oh, yeah! 

By the way, stabilization, i.e., bracing, is a critical therapeutic piece in effective, authentic “oral-motor” therapy.


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  • Charlotte Boshart
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