Anticipatory Posturing of the Vocal Tract Reveals Dissociation of Speech Movement Plans from Linguistic Units

Models of speech production typically assume that control over the timing of speech movements is governed by the selection of higher-level linguistic units, such as segments or syllables. This study used real-time magnetic resonance imaging of the vocal tract to investigate the anticipatory movements speakers make prior to producing a vocal response. Two factors were varied: preparation (whether or not speakers had foreknowledge of the target response) and pre-response constraint (whether or not speakers were required to maintain a specific vocal tract posture prior to the response). In prepared responses, many speakers were observed to produce pre-response anticipatory movements with a variety of articulators, showing that that speech movements can be readily dissociated from higher-level linguistic units. Substantial variation was observed across speakers with regard to the articulators used for anticipatory posturing and the contexts in which anticipatory movements occurred. The findings of this study have important consequences for models of speech production and for our understanding of the normal range of variation in anticipatory speech behaviors.