Articulation: The Palates - Hard and Soft
The Hard and Soft Palate, commonly called the roof of the mouth are important to articulation. The hard palate in front is made of bone, while the soft palate in back is made of muscles. At the back of the soft palate is the uvula, which is a tiny "punching bag" of flesh.
The hard palate holds the roots of the upper teeth, and the alveolar ridge is an essential part of clear articulation. You can feel this ridge just behind the upper front teeth. On the image above, the alveolar ridge is in front of the hole or foramen located behind the upper teeth. The first image, at the top of this page, shows the rugae,transverse ridges or wrinkles, which may help with tongue-palate articulation. There is also a midline raphe (a ridge or groove - it varies a lot). Some people have a torus or bulge on their hard palate. It seems to make no difference in speech.
The soft palate is made up of a series of muscles that allow it to press down, as part of swallowing, and to rise up creating space for yawns and bright open sound. These muscles, especially the tensor palati, can also clear the eustacean, or auditory, tubes - creating the ear popping familiar in plane rides.
The tensor and levator palati form a "sling", lifting the soft palate up and backwards, closing off the entrance to the nasal cavaties above by coming into contact with the pharyngeal wall. This is essential to articulating the difference between a vowel sound, where the voiced sound flows through the oral cavity and a nasal vowel or consonant, where the voiced sound flows through the nasal cavity. This often happens so quickly on sounds like "on, on, on" or "no, no" that we cannot feel the action of the soft palate.
The remaining muscles tend to close off the opening to the oropharynx. It is useful to learn to feel their action so that you can then relax the muscle. You may also feel the muscles stretched long and wide by the action of the levator and tensor palati. The palatoglossus is connected to the tongue, while the palatopharyngeus is connected with the pharynx. The former can depress the palate or raise the back of the tongue. The latter forms a sandwich above and below the levator palati. Essential in swallowing and gagging, the palatopharyngeus can also raise the larnynx. Relaxing it for spoken or sung communication is essential.
The following images, from Fritzell (1969), show extremely clearly
how each of the muscles of the soft palate works.
1. Tensor Palati2. Levator Palati3. Palatoglossus4. Palatopharyngeus5. Superior Constrictor
- Tensor Palati
- Superior Pharyngeal Constrictor
Palates (on this page)
More on Articulation
Loyola University has a great online learning area on anatomy. This link puts you in the Master Muscle List by Region, where you should select "head and neck". This will give you a huge long list of all the muscles in the head and neck which you can use to learn more about these structures.