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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02597

Native language influence on brass instrument performance: An application of generalized additive mixed models (GAMMs) to midsagittal ultrasound images of the tongue

  • 1Boston University, United States
  • 2New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour (NZILBB), University of Canterbury, New Zealand
  • 3Newcastle University, United Kingdom

This paper presents the findings of an ultrasound study of ten New Zealand English and ten Tongan -speaking trombone players, to determine whether there is an influence of native language speech production on trombone performance. Trombone players’ midsagittal tongue positions were recorded while reading wordlists and during sustained note productions. After normalizing to account for differences in vocal tract shape and ultrasound transducer orientation, we used generalized additive mixed models (GAMMs) to estimate average tongue shapes used by the players from the two language groups when producing notes at different pitches and intensities, and during the production of the monophthongs in their native languages. The average midsagittal tongue contours predicted by our models show a statistically robust difference at the back of the tongue distinguishing the two groups, although tongue shape during playing does not directly map onto vowel tongue shapes as prescribed by the pedagogical literature. While the New Zealand English-speaking participants employed a playing tongue position approximating the neutral vowel schwa and vowel used in the word ‘lot’, the Tongan participants used a tongue shape loosely patterning with the back vowels /o/ and /u/. We argue that these findings represent evidence for native language influence on brass instrument performance; however, this influence seems to be secondary to more basic constraints of brass playing related to airflow requirements and acoustical considerations, with the vocal tract configurations observed across both groups satisfying these conditions in different ways. Our findings furthermore provide evidence for the functional independence of various sections of the tongue and indicate that speech production, itself an acquired motor skill, can influence another skilled behavior via motor memory of vocal tract gestures forming the basis of local optimization processes to arrive at a suitable tongue position for sustained note production.

Keywords: Laboratory phonology, Speech Motor Control, ultrasound imaging of the tongue, Brass Instrument Performance, motor memory, Acoustic to articulatory mapping, Generalized additive mixed models (GAMMs)

Received: 03 May 2019; Accepted: 01 Nov 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Heyne, Derrick and Al-Tamimi. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Matthias Heyne, Boston University, Boston, United States,