Phonetics and Phonology

Airstream mechanisms


This unit aims at giving you an overview of the human speech organism. With regard to the organs of speech that were introduced in the preliminaries, we will have a closer look on how sounds are produced. First, this chapter will concentrate on the respiratory system as an introduction of the airstream mechanisms. Furthermore, we will continue with the different forms of airstreams that consist of pulmonic (egressive/ingressive), glottalic and velaric airstreams. Second, the focus will turn to laryngeal settings in order to illustrate how different parts of the vocal tract function.


The investigation of how sounds are produced will begin with the vocal tract. Speech sounds are mostly produced with air that stems from the lungs, proceeds through the windpipe (trachea), and leaves through the mouth. On its way out the air-stream is shaped in different places of the vocal tract. In addition, a variety of muscles interact to produce changes in the configuration of the vocal tract which allow parts of the speech organs to get into contact (or near contact) to articulate. What makes air flow is a difference in air pressure between two places. As a consequence, air flows in two different directions, depending on where the air pressure is higher:

1.The air pressure inside the mouth is greater than the air pressure outside the mouth. Therefore, the air goes outwards and the airstream is said to be egressive.

2.The air pressure inside the mouth is lower than the air pressure outside the mouth. The air goes into the mouth and the airstream is said to be ingressive.

Move on to learn more about the different airstreams.