Tongue shapes for rhotics in school-age children with and without residual speech errors

Jonathan L. Preston, Patricia McCabe, Mark Tiede, Douglas H. Whalen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Speakers of North American English use variable tongue shapes for rhotic sounds. However, quantifying tongue shapes for rhotics can be challenging, and little is known about how tongue shape complexity corresponds to perceptual ratings of rhotic accuracy in children with residual speech sound errors (RSE). In this study, 16 children aged 9–16 with RSE and 14 children with typical speech (TS) development made multiple productions of ‘Let Robby cross Church Street’. Midsagittal ultrasound images were collected once for children with TS and twice for children in the RSE group (once after 7 h of speech therapy, then again after another 7 h of therapy). Tongue contours for the rhotics in the four words were traced and quantified using a new metric of tongue shape complexity: the number of inflections. Rhotics were also scored for accuracy by four listeners. During the first assessment, children with RSE had fewer tongue inflections than children with TS. Following 7 h of therapy, there were increases in the number of inflections for the RSE group, with the cluster items cross and Street reaching tongue complexity levels of those with TS. Ratings of rhotic accuracy were correlated with the number of inflections. Therefore, the number of inflections in the tongue, an index of tongue shape complexity, was associated with perceived accuracy of rhotic productions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)334-348
Number of pages15
JournalClinical Linguistics and Phonetics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 3 2019


  • Rhotic
  • children
  • speech sound disorder
  • tongue
  • ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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