Update: 2004-03-21 05:24 AM -0500


Online Phonetics Course

Department of Linguistics, University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

Authors' last updated: 13 January 1999. Translated from French by Daniel Ezra Johnson. Most figures on this page were adapted to English by Athanasius Lance Arron Hamilton. Please send any remarks or comments to Christophe.Pythoud@ling.unil.ch

Downloaded and edited by U Kyaw Tun, M.S. (I.P.S.T., U.S.A.). Not for sale. Prepared for students of TIL Computing and Language Center, Yangon, MYANMAR. See reference materials used by UKT.

• The UNIL web-pages used glyphs (graphics in .gif format) to show the phonetic characters. This slows down the opening of the web-page. However I have used Arial Unicode MS exclusively. If the IPA character schwa [ ə ] appears on your computer with almost the same shape as  , then be assured that most of the characters that is displayed on your computer screen is correct.
• I have also incorporated large sections from web-pages of Kevin Russell Linguistics Department, University of Manitoba (UMB), Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3T 5V5, CANADA  http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/arts/linguistics/russell/138/notes.htm
• The Burmese characters are gif-glyphs and you need not have any Burmese font.
• This paper is for those who can read and write Myanmar sar {myan'ma sa}. Please see my message To Myanmars.

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01. Introduction

This chapter presents some fundamental ideas about the articulatory production of speech sounds. It also introduces the major classes into which speech sounds are divided according to the IPA system.

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0101.Sound Production

Most sounds in speech are produced by passing a stream of air from the lungs through one or more resonators belonging to the phonetic apparatus.

The principal resonators are (Figure 1.1. Resonators): 
1. the pharyngeal cavity;
2. the oral cavity;
3. the labial cavity;
4. the nasal cavity.

UKT: UNIL gave two figures, Figure 1.1 and Figure 4.1, which are the same.

The presence or absence of obstructions in the course of the air-stream modifies the nature of the sound produced. By classifying the different types of obstructions that are possible, articulatory phonetics distinguishes the sound classes described below.

For a small number of articulations, the air-stream does not originate in the lungs, but rather from outside. The "ingressive" air-stream mechanism produces sound through inhalation. A speech sound can also be generated from a difference in pressure of the air inside and outside a resonator. In the case of the oral cavity, this pressure difference can be created without using the lungs at all (producing clicks, for example).

UKT: The figures in colour on the right are from:

Click on a figure to see a larger image. If you would still like to see more details go to Sagittal section of nose, mouth, pharynx and larynx from Henry Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body, 1918.
• See also Anatomy of the vocal tract (Univ of Manitoba)
• See description of larynx, http://fulton.edzone.net/cites/winkler-science/team2/chap14.html
• On comparing the original of Figure 1.2 to Gray's Sagittal section of nose, mouth, pharynx and larynx, I have to conclude that Figure 1.2 is not "anatomically" correct. However, Figure 1.2 is sufficient for phonetics. I have relabeled uvula and epiglottis.

UKT: I have not coloured epiglottis and uvula.
• Alveolus n. sing   alveoli n. pl. 1. A small angular cavity or pit, such as a honeycomb cell. 2. A tooth socket in the jawbone.
• Epiglottis:
The thin elastic cartilaginous structure located at the root of the tongue that folds over the glottis to prevent food and liquid from entering the trachea during the act of swallowing.
• Uvula A small, conical, fleshy mass of tissue suspended from the center of the soft palate. -- AHTD). See also fig1014.

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0102. Consonants and Vowels

The distinction between consonants and vowels is made in the following manner:
• if the air, once out of the glottis, is allowed to pass freely through the resonators, the sound is a vowel;
• if the air, once out of the glottis, is obstructed, partially or totally, in one or more places, the sound is a consonant

• The terms "consonants" and "vowels" used here are phonetic terms -- not the way in which the sounds are represented graphically. For example the sound /kat/ can be represented (although imperfectly) in English as <cat> or in Myanmar as or {kak}.
• It is NOT to be expected that each Bama consonant can be identified with a particular English consonant. Though strict identity is not expected, I do expect to find equivalence between the consonants of Bama and English. e.g., [ k ] and {ka.}. However, there are several English consonants that have no counter parts in Bama, and vice versa. For example English [ f ] and [ v ] have no equivalents in Bama. Bama {ng} (one of the most important) can occur only in the coda of English syllables such as <sing>. There are also some consonants though showing superficial similarity are in fact behaving quite differently. Thus English [ l ] though similar to  Bama {la.}, behaves very differently when used in combination with vowels.

Consonant parameters

UKT: The following edited excerpt is from UMB: Internet link Consonant parameters

Consonants involve constrictions, or gestures that narrow the vocal tract at a particular point. Most consonants use only one constriction, but some have more than one. In order to fully describe a consonant sound, we need to describe each constriction as well as some other properties of the vocal tract.

Parameters of a constriction gesture
1. active articulator: What articulator moves to make the constriction?
2. passive articulator: What articulator does the active articulator touch or approach?
3. degree of constriction: How close do the active and passive articulators get to each other?
4. laterality -- (UKT: important in describing [ l ] and {la.}.

These should be specified for every constriction involved in a consonant. The following properties don't apply to any particular constriction, but to the consonant as a whole:

Other parameters
1. state of the glottis: What are the vocal cords doing?
2. nasality: Is air escaping through the nose?
3. airstream mechanism: How is the flow of air being produced?

Answering each of these questions about the state of the vocal tract is enough to uniquely identify any consonant. If two consonants are different, they must differ in their answers for at least one of these questions.

Together, the active and passive articulator are often referred to as the place of articulation (POA). The other parameters are often lumped together and referred to as manner of articulation.

Before proceeding, it should be noted that the line between vowels and consonants cannot be clearly drawn; a continuum exists between the two extremes. There are also intermediate instances, such as the semi-vowels and the (frictionless) spirants.

UKT: The statement "... the line between vowels and consonants cannot be clearly drawn" applies to phonetic consonants and vowels. Note that in English-script, a, e, i, o, u are vowels, b, c, d, g, etc. are true consonants, and, y, w, etc. are semivowels (or semi-consonants). What about the Bama {ya.} {ra.} {la.} {wa.} {tha.} and {ha.]? Very few Myanmar would class them as semi-vowels! Now, my remark to my fellow Myanmars: we know that letters of our {byi: akkara} or "consonants" have astronomical (or astrological) significance. I have always wondered why {ya.} {ra.} {la.} {wa.} and {ha.] are assigned to the planet Mercury (or metallic mercury -- "quick silver"). Mercury is very difficult to see in the sky because of its close proximity to the Sun. You can only see it just about sunrise or sunset. It seems to be darting in and out going before the Sun or lagging behind the Sun. And the ancients dubbed the "god" ruling it as a hermaphrodite (the ancient Greeks call Mercury "Hermes"). Another planet showing "femininity" is Venus. (The ancients view the female as rather unstable -- but beautiful and desirable). No wonder {tha.} is assigned to Venus!

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0103. Place of Articulation and Manner of Articulation

The distinction between manner of articulation and place of articulation is particularly important for the classification of consonants.

The manner of articulation is defined by a number of factors:
• whether there is vibration of the vocal folds (also known as vocal cords) ( voiced vs. voiceless);
• whether there is obstruction of the air stream at any point above the glottis (consonant vs. vowel);
• whether the air stream passes through the nasal cavity in addition to the oral cavity (nasal vs. oral);
• whether the air stream passes through the middle of the oral cavity or along the side(s) (non-lateral vs. lateral).

Manners of articulation

UKT: The following edited excerpt is from UMB:

Constriction degree: Place of articulation refers to where the narrowing occurs -- which active articulator gets close to which passive articulator. Constriction degree refers to how close they get. The main constriction degrees are:

• stop: the active articulator touches the passive articulator and completely cuts off the airflow through the mouth. English stops include: [p], [d], [k], [m].
   A stop cuts off airflow through the mouth. Airflow through the nose does not matter -- you can have both oral and nasal stops. Oral stops are often called plosives, including in the IPA chart. Nasal stops are usually just called nasals.

• fricative: the active articulator doesn't touch the passive articulator, but gets close enough that the airflow through the opening becomes turbulent. English fricatives include [f], [edh], [z].
   Approximants that are apical or laminal are often called liquids (e.g., [turnr], [l]). Approximants that correspond to vowels are often called glides (e.g., [j] corresponds to [i], [w] to [u]).

• approximant: the active articulator approaches the passive articulator, but doesn't even get close enough for the airflow to become turbulent. English approximants include [j], [w], [turnr], and [l].

• affricate: Affricates can be seen as a sequence of a stop and a fricative which have the same or similar places of articulation. They are transcribed using the symbols for the stop and the fricative. If one wants to emphasize the affricate as a "single" sound, a tie symbol can be used to join the stop and the fricative (sometimes the fricative is written as a superscript).
   English has the affricates [ ʧ ] and [ ʤ ]. The stop and the fricative halves of these affricates are at the same place of articulation: the stop is in fact postalveolar rather than alveolar. We could be explicit about this and underline the [t] and [d] (in IPA, a minus sign under a symbol is a diacritic meaning "pronounced further back in the mouth"), but most phoneticians believe this difference in the place of articulation is so predictable that it doesn't have to be marked.

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The place of articulation is the point where the air stream is obstructed. In general, the place of articulation is simply that point on the palate where the tongue is placed to block the stream of air.

Place of articulation

UKT: The following edited excerpt is from UMB:

The active articulator usually moves in order to make the constriction. The passive articulator usually just sits there and gets approached.

A sound's place of articulation is usually named by using the Latin adjective for the active articulator (ending with an "o") followed by the Latin adjective for the passive articulator. For example, a sound where the tongue tip (the "apex") approaches or touches the upper teeth is called an "apico-dental". Most of the common combinations of active and passive articulator have abbreviated names (usually leaving out the active half).

The following are the abbreviated names for the places of articulation used in English:
• bilabial: The articulators are the two lips. (We could say that the lower lip is the active articulator and the upper lip the passive articulator, though the upper lip usually moves too, at least a little.) English bilabial sounds include [p], [b], and [m]
• labio-dental: The lower lip is the active articulator and the upper teeth are the passive articulator. English labio-dental sounds include [f] and [v].
• dental: Dental sounds involve the upper teeth as the passive articulator. The active articulator may be either the tongue tip or (usually) the tongue blade -- diacritic symbols can be used if it matters which. Extreme lamino-dental sounds are often called interdental. English interdental sounds include [θ] and [π].
• alveolar: Alveolar sounds involve the alveolar ridge as the passive articulator. The active articulator may be either the tongue blade or (usually) the tongue tip -- diacritic symbols can be used if it matters which. English alveolar sounds include [t], [d], [n], [s], [z], [l].
• postalveolar: Postalveolar sounds involve the area just behind the alveolar ridge as the passive articulator. The active articulator may be either the tongue tip or (usually) the tongue blade -- diacritic symbols can be used if it matters which. English postalveolars include [ ʃ ] and [ ʒ ].
   Linguists have traditionally used very inconsistent terminology in referring to the postalveolar POA. Some of the terms you may encounter for it include: palato-alveolar, alveo-palatal, alveolo-palatal, and even (especially among English-speakers) palatal. Many insist that palato-alveolar and alveo(lo)-palatal are two different things -- though they don't agree which is which. "Postalveolar", the official term used by the International Phonetic Association, is unambiguous, not to mention easier to spell.
• retroflex: In retroflex sounds, the tongue tip is curled up and back. Retroflexes can be classed as apico-postalveolar, though not all apico-postalveolars need to be curled backward enough to count as retroflex.
   The closest sound to a retroflex that English has is [ ɹ ]. For most North Americans, the tongue tip is curled back in [ ɹ ], though not as much as it is in languages that have true retroflexes. Many other North Americans use what is called a "bunched r" -- instead of curling their tongues back, they bunch the front up and push it forward to form an approximant behind the alveolar ridge.
• palatal: The active articulator is the tongue body and the passive articulator is the hard palate. The English glide [ j ] is a palatal. UKT: [ j ] is the English letter [ y ] and probably the Myanmar .
• velar: The active articulator is the tongue body and the passive articulator is the soft palate. English velars include [ k ], [ g ], and [ ŋ ]. UKT: Myanmar {ka.} {ga.} {ng}.
• glottal: This isn't strictly a place of articulation, but they had to put it in the chart somewhere. Glottal sounds are made in the larynx. For the glottal stop, the vocal cords close momentarily and cut off all airflow through the vocal tract. English uses the glottal stop in the interjection uh-uh [ ʔʌ́ʔʌ̀ ] (meaning 'no'). In [h], the vocal cords are open, but close enough together that air passing between them creates friction noise.
• Note: [w] is often called a "labio-velar". This doesn't follow the POA naming convention -- it does not mean that the active articulator is the lower lip and you try to touch your soft palate with it! A [w] is made up of two different approximants: a bilabial approximant and a (dorso-)velar approximant pronounced simultaneously.

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The place of articulation can be any of the following (UKT:see Fig 1.2 and Gray's Fig1014):
• the lips (labials and bilabials),
• the teeth (dentals),
• the lips and teeth (labio-dentals -- here the tongue is not directly involved),
• the alveolar ridge (that part of the gums behind the upper front teeth -- alveolar articulations),
• the hard palate (given its large size, one can distinguish between palato-alveolars, palatals and palato-velars),
• the soft palate (or velum -- velar articulations),
• the uvula (uvulars),
• the pharynx (pharyngeals),
• the glottis (glottals).

UKT: Unless you are familiar with the places of articulation given above, you will become confused with the materials which follow. So go back to Fig 1.2 and Gray's Sagittal section of nose, mouth, pharynx and larynx. Also go to Anatomy of the vocal tract (Univ of Manitoba), where you will find some descriptions on:
alveolar ridge | hard palate | soft palate/velum | uvula | pharynx | dorsum | epiglottis | vocal folds/ vocal cords | glottis | larynx

Gray's FIG. 1014 – The mouth cavity. The cheeks have been slit transversely and the tongue pulled forward. (See enlarged image).
UKT: Red labels are mine. Pharynx is poorly marked by me, whereas glottis is further down and is hidden from view.
Pharynx and Larynx: The PHARYNX is a fibromuscular tube which extends from the base of the skull to the lower border of the cricoid cartilage (at which point it becomes the esophagus). Portions of the pharynx lie posterior to the nasal cavity (nasal pharynx), oral cavity (oral pharynx) and larynx (laryngeal pharynx). --  http://www.emory.edu/ANATOMY/AnatomyManual/pharynx.html

UKT: The Velum. The palate is generally defined as the roof of the oral cavity and separates the nasal and oral cavities from one another. It is divided into a region with underlying bone called the hard palate and a region made up of connective tissue and muscle called or soft palate, or velum. (The terms ‘soft palate’ and ‘velum’ as used by linguists and phoneticians are largely interchangeable. We will continue to use the term ‘soft palate,’ since the term "velum" is often used to refer to other membranous tissues in the body.) The hard palate comprises about two thirds of the palate; the soft palate makes up the posterior third of the palate. The hard palate is fixed and immovable because it is made of bone; the soft palate is fleshy and moveable because it is made of muscle. The opening between the oropharynx and the nasopharynx is regulated by movement of the soft palate. This action controls the degree of nasality speech sounds. Additionally, the soft palate raises so the food will pass down into the esophagus and not up into the nasal cavity. -- from: http://www.jladefoged.com/pdf/chapter9.pdf

Click on the figure to enlarge.

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0104. Voice

A sound is described as voiceless when the vocal cords do not vibrate during its articulation. If the vocal cords do vibrate, the sound is called voiced. The vocal cords are folds of muscle located at the level of the glottis (in fact, the glottis is nothing other than the space between the vocal cords).

The vocal cords vibrate when they are closed to obstruct the airflow through the glottis (see 0103 Place of articulation and manner of articulation): they vibrate under the pressure of the air being forced through them by the lungs.

The voiced/voiceless opposition is mainly useful for the classification of consonants (voiceless vowels being very rare in the languages of the world). See voice-box.

State of the glottis

UKT: The following edited excerpt is from UMB:

For now, we can simply use the terms "voiced" and "voiceless" to answer the question of what the vocal cords are doing:
• In voiced sounds (vd sounds), the vocal cords are vibrating.
• In voiceless sounds (vl sounds), the vocal cords are not vibrating.

Ultimately, we will see there are different ways of being voiced or voiceless (vd or vl). The vocal cords can do a number of things. They can:
• be held so wide apart that the air makes no sound passing through them. (This is nice when you have to breathe 24 hours a day, but not as useful for speaking.)
• be held closer together, so that the air passing through them becomes turbulent. This quality of sound is called breathiness. It is what is happening in apsiration and in the sound [h].
• be held together so that the air passing through them causes them to vibrate. This is called voicing.
• be held together so tightly that no air can pass through at all, as in a glottal stop.
(By varying their tension and position, the vocal cords can also produce many other effects like breathy voicing, creaky voicing, and falsetto.)

What the vocal cords are doing is independent of what the higher parts of the vocal tract are doing. For any place of articulation and any degree of stricture, you can get two different sounds: voiced and voiceless. For example, [ t ] and [ d ] ( {ta.} and {da.})  are formed identically in the mouth; the difference is that the vocal cords vibrate during a [ d ] or {da.} but not during a [ t ] or {ta.}. (The obvious exception is the glottal place of articulation -- you can't vibrate your vocal cords while making a glottal stop.)

In each cell of the IPA chart, the symbol for the voiceless sound is shown to the left and that for the voiced sound to the right. Some rows only have voiced symbols (e.g., nasals and approximants). You can write the corresponding voiceless sound using the voiceless diacritic (a circle under the voiced symbol).

• [ d ] (vd) on becoming voiceless is written as [ ] (vl). Though [ ] (vl) = [ t ], it is preferable to write [ ] to show that it was originally [ d ] which has become voiceless.
• The interchange of vd to vl and vice versa is also found in Myanmar. For example, pronouncing {to. kyaung:tha:} as {do. kyaung:tha:} is an example of a vl sound becoming a vd sound.

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The top of the pharynx is like a crossroads. The airstream can exit the pharynx either of two ways, depending on the position of the soft palate:

• if the soft palate is lowered, a portion of the air will pass through the nasal cavity (the remainder finding its way through the oral cavity);
• if the soft palate is raised, access to the nasal cavity is cut off, and the air can only pass through the oral cavity.

The sounds produced via the first method are called nasal; those produced the other way, oral. See Fig 1.3a and Fig 1.3b for details. 

The nasal/oral opposition concerns vowels as well as consonants.


UKT: The following edited excerpt is from UMB:

The soft palate can be lowered, allowing air to flow out through the nose, or it can be raised to block nasal airflow. As was the case with the vocal cords, what the soft palate is doing is independent the other articulators. For almost any place of articulation, there are pairs of stops that differ only in whether the soft palate is raised, as in the oral stop [d], or lowered, as in the nasal stop [n].

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UKT: The following edited excerpt is from UMB:

When you form an [ l ] or {la.}, your tongue tip touches your alveolar ridge (or maybe your upper teeth) but it doesn't create a stop because one or both sides of the tongue are lowered so that air can flow out along the side. Sounds like this with airflow along the sides of the tongue are called lateral, all others are called central (though we usually just assume that a sound is central unless we explicitly say it's lateral).

The side of the tongue can lower to different degrees. It can lower so little that the air passing through becomes turbulent (giving a lateral fricative like [ ɬ ] (U026C) or [ ɮ ] (U026E)) or it can lower enough for there to be no turbulence (a lateral approximant). The [ l ] of English is a lateral approximant.

UKT: According to Dr. Maung Di (former deputy minister of education) Myanmar {lha.} is exactly the same as Welsh [ ll ] /ɬ/ (U026C) -- as in Welsh name "Llewellyn". Since, English does not have [ ɬ ] they ended up spelling the Myanmar female name as Ma Hla (meaning: Miss Pretty), and calling her Ma La (meaning: Miss Moon).

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Airstream mechanism

UKT: The following edited excerpt is from UMB:

Speech sounds need air to move. Most sounds (including all the sounds of English) are created by modifying a stream of air that is pushed outward from the lungs. But it's possible for the air to be set in motion in other ways. Sounds which use one of the other three most common airstream mechanisms are called ejectives, implosives, and clicks.

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Describing consonant segments

UKT: The following edited excerpt is from UMB:

A consonant sound can be described completely by specifying each of the parameters for place and manner of articulation. For example, [k] has the following properties:
• active articulator -- tongue body (dorsum)
• passive articulator -- soft palate (velum)
• constriction degree -- stop
• state of glottis -- voiceless
• nasality -- no
• laterality -- no
• airstream mechanism -- normal
   Therefore [k] is a voiceless oral central dorso-velar stop.

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UKT note

Adam's apple

n. The slight projection at the front of the throat formed by the largest cartilage of the larynx, usually more prominent in men than in women. (AHTD)

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• glottis

The vocal apparatus of the larynx, consisting of the true vocal cords (plica vocalis) and the opening between them (rima glottidis) http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definition/english/Gl/Glottis.html

• rima: a narrow elongated opening or fissure between two symmetrical parts http://www.thefreedictionary.com/rima

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larynx or voice box

from: Winkler-Science Project 2002, Human Anatomy and Physiology

The larynx, or voice box, can be envisioned as a triangular box whose apex, the thyroid cartilage (or Adam's apple), is located at the front of the neck. At the top of the larynx is a variable-sized opening called the glottis. When food is being swallowed, a flap of tissue called the epiglottis covers the glottis so that no food passes into the larynx. If, by chance, food or some other substance does gain entry into the larynx, reflex coughing usually occurs, expelling the substance.

The larynx is called the voice box because the vocal cords are inside the larynx. The vocal cords are mucous membrane folds supported by elastic ligaments stretched across the glottis. When air passes through the glottis, the vocal cords vibrate, producing sound. At the time of puberty, the growth of the larynx and the vocal cords is much more rapid and accentuated in the male than in the female, causing the male to have a more prominent Adam's apple and a deeper voice. The voice "breaks" in the young male due to his inability to control the longer vocal cords. These changes cause the male voice to have a lower pitch.

The high or low pitch of the voice is regulated when speaking and singing by changing the tension on the vocal cords. The greater the tension, as when the glottis becomes more narrow, the higher the pitch. When the glottis is wider, the pitch is lower. The loudness, or intensity, of the voice depends upon the amplitude of the vibrations, that is, the degree to which the vocal cords vibrate.

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Voiced vs. voiceless

The easiest way to differentiate between voiced and voiceless phonemes is to hold your throat lightly and pronounce the following letters of the Burmese alphabet:
     {ka.} (voiceless) | {ga.} (voiced)
     {ta.}  (voiceless) | {da.} (voiced}
     {pa.} (voiceless) | {ba.} (voiced}
You can feel the vocal cords vibrating when saying the voiced phonemes.

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vocal cords

Also known as vocal folds. These are folds of tissue stretched across the airway to the lungs. They can vibrate against each other, providing much of the sound during speech. (Univ of Manitoba)
   vocal cords pl.n. Either of two pairs of bands or folds of mucous membrane in the throat that project into the larynx. The lower pair vibrate when pulled together and when air is passed up from the lungs, thereby producing vocal sounds. The upper, thicker pair are not involved in voice production. (AHTD)
   The word "cord" is very misleading since, "cord" ordinarily means: a slender length of flexible material usually made of twisted strands or fibers and used to bind, tie, connect, or support.

Gray's FIG. 956– Laryngoscopic view of interior of larynx. (See enlarged image)


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