Bryan Gick and I recently published an article on “Gait Change in Tongue Movement” in Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group). Below is the abstract, with images alongside. However, if you want an easy-to-follow walkthrough of the paper, I also published a YouTube video on the paper on my YouTube Channel for Maps of Speech.
During locomotion, humans switch gaits from walking to running, and horses from walking to trotting to cantering to galloping, as they increase their movement rate. It is unknown whether gait change leading to a wider movement rate range is limited to locomotive-type behaviours, or instead is a general property of any rate-varying motor system. The tongue during speech provides a motor system that can address this gap. In controlled speech experiments, using phrases containing complex tongue-movement sequences, we demonstrate distinct gaits in tongue movement at different speech rates. As speakers widen their tongue-front displacement range, they gain access to wider speech-rate ranges.
At the widest displacement ranges, speakers also produce categorically different patterns for their slowest and fastest speech. Speakers with the narrowest tongue-front displacement ranges show one stable speech-gait pattern, and speakers with widest ranges show two. Critical fluctuation analysis of tongue motion over the time-course of speech revealed these speakers used greater effort at the beginning of phrases—such end-state-comfort effects indicate speech planning.
Based on these findings, we expect that categorical motion solutions may emerge in any motor system, providing that system with access to wider movement-rate ranges.