The growth of the oral and pharyngeal structures and their respective cavities - that define the vocal tract (VT) - follow a prenatal to postnatal developmental continuum. Current theory asserts that postnatal growth of the VT is guided by the functions it serves, especially for the period from birth to early childhood where growth entails changes in size, shape, and relative proportions. Acoustic theory posits an evolving relationship between the VT anatomy and the properties of speech sounds during development. The available anatomic information is inadequate to explain the full nature of this relationship. Since 2000, our VT Development Lab has made steady progress towards its mission to quantitatively characterize sex-specific anatomic changes of the supralaryngeal speech system during development using a two-pronged anatomic-acoustic approach that entails: A. Anatomy: 1) Establishing a unique imaging database, consisting of 1679 imaging studies across the lifespan, that is representative of typically developing individuals of both sexes. 2) Compiling a large set of two dimensional landmark based measurements that capture the concurrent growth of the VT structures throughout the lifespan;and advancing novel analysis methods using select 3D models to quantify multidimensional growth (Chung et al. 2013, submitted) 3) Characterizing systematically the individual and relational growth of VT structures (Vorperian et al. 1999, 2005, 2007, 2009 &2011). B. Acoustic: 1) Synthesizing findings on the development of vowel acoustic space i.e. the acoustic output of the developing VT (Vorperian &Kent, 2007). 2) Synthesizing findings on speech impairment in DS to help guide future research efforts (Kent &Vorperian, 2013). 3) Beginning to establish an acoustics database consisting of recordings from 250 participants including 90 individuals with Down Syndrome (DS) between the ages four to adulthood;and 4) Compiling developmental acoustics data including measures of the first four formants and their bandwidths. This proposed project combines imaging, acoustics, and VT modeling to study the development of the supra-laryngeal speech apparatus throughout the lifespan within the theoretical construct on function driven craniofacial growth. Research goals are to: 1) Capitalize on the imaging database to quantify the 3D growth of individual, relative and relational growth of VT structures while taking into account the structures'tissue type (bony, soft, cartilage and cavity), embryologic origin, plane of growth, and/or functional use. Also, extend our acoustics database while addressing fundamental issues in acoustic analysis. 2) Assess hypotheses that are acoustically driven and/or guided by structure/function interplay using typically and atypically developing individuals;and 3) Use age and sex-specific VT models to test hypotheses on anatomic-acoustic relationships. Project findings will provide a coherent and much needed picture on the development of VT structures throughout the lifespan. Such information is foundational for both theoretical constructs and clinical application in multiple disciplines that deal with craniofacial structures and functions.

Public Health Relevance

Imaging and acoustic methods are used to provide detailed information on the typical and atypical anatomic development of the vocal tract. The data will establish normative references that inform sex- and age-specific modeling of the vocal tract and provide a foundation for intervention strategies that are designed to modify developmental patterns in anatomy, physiology, or acoustic output. The information to be obtained is central to the needs of several clinical specialties concerned with behaviors such as feeding, swallowing, speech production, and respiration;also, the data can be used to test prevailing theories on craniofacial development.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
Program Officer
Shekim, Lana O
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Wisconsin Madison
Graduate Schools
United States
Zip Code
Fisher, Ellie; Austin, Diane; Werner, Helen M et al. (2016) Hyoid bone fusion and bone density across the lifespan: prediction of age and sex. Forensic Sci Med Pathol 12:146-57
Derdemezis, Ekaterini; Vorperian, Houri K; Kent, Ray D et al. (2016) Optimizing Vowel Formant Measurements in Four Acoustic Analysis Systems for Diverse Speaker Groups. Am J Speech Lang Pathol 25:335-54
Chung, Moo K; Qiu, Anqi; Seo, Seongho et al. (2015) Unified heat kernel regression for diffusion, kernel smoothing and wavelets on manifolds and its application to mandible growth modeling in CT images. Med Image Anal 22:63-76
Vorperian, Houri K; Kurtzweil, Sara L; Fourakis, Marios et al. (2015) Effect of body position on vocal tract acoustics: Acoustic pharyngometry and vowel formants. J Acoust Soc Am 138:833-45
Kent, Ray D (2015) Nonspeech Oral Movements and Oral Motor Disorders: A Narrative Review. Am J Speech Lang Pathol 24:763-89
Cotter, Meghan M; Whyms, Brian J; Kelly, Michael P et al. (2015) Hyoid Bone Development: An Assessment Of Optimal CT Scanner Parameters and Three-Dimensional Volume Rendering Techniques. Anat Rec (Hoboken) 298:1408-15
Hosseinbor, Ameer Pasha; Kim, Won Hwa; Adluru, Nagesh et al. (2014) The 4D hyperspherical diffusion wavelet: A new method for the detection of localized anatomical variation. Med Image Comput Comput Assist Interv 17:65-72
Burris, Carlyn; Vorperian, Houri K; Fourakis, Marios et al. (2014) Quantitative and descriptive comparison of four acoustic analysis systems: vowel measurements. J Speech Lang Hear Res 57:26-45
Whyms, Brian J; Vorperian, Houri K; Gentry, Lindell R et al. (2013) The effect of computed tomographic scanner parameters and 3-dimensional volume rendering techniques on the accuracy of linear, angular, and volumetric measurements of the mandible. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol 115:682-91
Kent, Ray D; Vorperian, Houri K (2013) Speech impairment in Down syndrome: a review. J Speech Lang Hear Res 56:178-210

Showing the most recent 10 out of 20 publications