Speech Movement Variability in People Who Stutter: A Vocal Tract Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study
Wiltshire CEE., Chiew M., Chesters J., Healy MP., Watkins KE.
Purpose People who stutter (PWS) have more unstable speech motor systems than people who are typically fluent (PWTF). Here, we used real-time magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the vocal tract to assess variability and duration of movements of different articulators in PWS and PWTF during fluent speech production. Method The vocal tracts of 28 adults with moderate to severe stuttering and 20 PWTF were scanned using MRI while repeating simple and complex pseudowords. Midsagittal images of the vocal tract from lips to larynx were reconstructed at 33.3 frames per second. For each participant, we measured the variability and duration of movements across multiple repetitions of the pseudowords in three selected articulators: the lips, tongue body, and velum. Results PWS showed significantly greater speech movement variability than PWTF during fluent repetitions of pseudowords. The group difference was most evident for measurements of lip aperture using these stimuli, as reported previously, but here, we report that movements of the tongue body and velum were also affected during the same utterances. Variability was not affected by phonological complexity. Speech movement variability was unrelated to stuttering severity within the PWS group. PWS also showed longer speech movement durations relative to PWTF for fluent repetitions of multisyllabic pseudowords, and this group difference was even more evident as complexity increased. Conclusions Using real-time MRI of the vocal tract, we found that PWS produced more variable movements than PWTF even during fluent productions of simple pseudowords. PWS also took longer to produce multisyllabic words relative to PWTF, particularly when words were more complex. This indicates general, trait-level differences in the control of the articulators between PWS and PWTF. Supplemental Material https://doi.org/10.23641/asha.14782092