What’s this then?
Answers on a post card…
It’s the roof of your mouth.
Well, that’s not exactly true. I didn’t steal in there in the middle of the night while you were asleep. I’ve suffered enough for this post as it is. I should say, it’s the inside of my mouth.
It’s a sagittal profile – the contour running down the centre line of the mouth, from front to back.
That point at the left side is at the tip of the upper teeth; the short flat, running up at about 30 degrees is the back of my incisors; there is then a nearly flat area behind the teeth before the contour breaks up toward the roof of the mouth.
The suffering… well that was down to having my wonderful dentist take an impression of my upper teeth and palate. The dentist was keen to ensure that the mould was as near complete as possible, and I gagged and gagged and gagged.
This is a model taken from that mould.
That mess of wrinkles and lumps behind the incisors, on what is often called the alveolar ridge, feels almost perfectly smooth to the tongue, but the dentist was able to show me that area on the video screen and it really does look like that.
I suppose you’ll have guessed by now that I have a passing interest in pronunciation.
When discussing pronunciation, and even sometimes when teaching it, we might use a diagram like this.
Of course, this is a diagram – a representation. It highlights features relevant to the matter in hand. It doesn’t claim to be a life-like image.
Having referred to diagrams like this, and indeed drawn them, for a good number of years, it was a slightly strange feeling to be able to examine part of my own vocal tract, albeit in model form.
The angle of the back of the teeth surprised me greatly, as did the depth of the ripples on the alveolar ridge but, otherwise, it was much as I’d always assumed.
Then I had the chance to make a comparison with someone else’s mould. Let’s call her Anonymous.
In each of the following pictures, the one on the left is me. On the right is Anonymous.
Looking up from the left side
What interests me here is that the alveolar ridge is nothing like as well defined on Anonymous’s model. What I’d always assumed was a very clear feature and a very useful marker in describing pronunciation suddenly looks much less clear.
From the profile, you can see that there is still a bump above or behind the incisors, but not the clear ‘shelf’ visible in my profile.
I’d be most interested to know whether these two models are extreme cases, in which case most people would be somewhere in between, or whether we might expect to find some people with either a more pronounced alveolar ridge or no ridge at all.
Do you think your profile feels more like mine, the one on the left, or the one on the right, Anonymous?
If someone were to say to you, “First, place your tongue against the back of the upper teeth. Now, draw the tongue back until you feel a ridge,” would that feature or position be immediately obvious?
In the coming days, I’ll be posting about Chinese pronunciation.