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voice & speech: journey of the voice: phonation: larynx part I

The Larynx Part I: Overview and Cartilages

The Larynx serves a number of purposes. Though it may seem designed specifically for our speaking and singing, the larynx has evolved to allow us this control. It has other purposes too, ones that are essential to life. These purposes are called "biological", while speaking and singing are called "non-biological", as it is quite possible to survive without speech or singing. Witness those individuals who have had to have their larynges ( La - rin - jeeze,the plural of larynx) removed due to cancer and who talk through a process much like burping. Perhaps not very aesthetically pleasing, but possible.

Biological Function:

Non-Biological Function:

The images on this page can be viewed in a larger (slower to download) format by clicking on them.

Skeleton of the Larynx
gross features viewed from the front.


Hyoid Bone The yellowish bone in the image, it is horseshoe shaped and is the only bone in the body that floats, unconnected to another bone. It can be felt by pressing a finger into the crease where your chin becomes your neck.

Cartilages (visible in this image)

Made up of a series of cartilaginous rings, the trachea can stretch, much like a vacuum cleaner hose. Compress it by swallowing, stretch it by tipping your head back.

The Larynx, viewed from behind

The Epiglottis
Functioning much like a "flap valve" on a toilet, the epiglottis drops down in swallowing to close off the entrance to the larynx, thereby protecting the airway.

The Fat Pad
Sitting behind the Epiglottis is a pad of fat (yellowish in the image above) which cushions it as it rises.

The Arytenoid Cartilages
The arytenoids are pyramid shaped and sit on top of the widest part of the cricoid cartilage. The vocal folds are attached to these cartilages and it is their movement that opens and closes the glottis (the space between the vocal folds).

larynx in x section This image shows the larynx from the side, featuring the vocal ligament, so that you can visualize the placement of the vocal folds within the structure of the cartilages.

larynx in x section This image shows the cartilages of the larynx from above, giving an excellent reference point for future images of the larynx as seen through an endoscope, as they really appear.

On to part two, Muscles and Mucosa
Back to Phonation



More on Larynx

Anatomy of the Larynx
by Dr Donal Shanahan, Anatomy & Clinical Skills Centre, The School of Surgical Sciences at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. A fabulous use of web technology to teach the anatomy of the larynx. Some of the best stuff I've seen. Highly recommended. posted May 29, 98.

The Voice-Centre at Eastern Virginia Medical School
A site dedicated to voice and the larynx, this site has a few excellent pages on the larynx and its anatomy. Highly recommended. posted May 22, 98.

Anatomy of the Larynx
The Gross Anatomy Course at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston has a very in depth on line resource from their 1997 labs. Designed for medical students, it is an excellent source on detailed information beyond the scope of what is covered here. posted May 22, 98.

Thyroid Cartilage

An image of the thyroid cartilage view from front, back and side.