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Phonation has slightly different meanings depending on the subfield of phonetics. Among some phoneticians, phonation is the process by which the vocal folds produce certain sounds through quasi-periodic vibration. This is the definition used among those who study laryngeal anatomy and physiology and speech production in general. Other phoneticians, though, call this process quasi-periodic vibration voicing, and they use the term phonation to refer to any oscillatory state of any part of the larynx that modifies the airstream, of which voicing is just one example. As such, voiceless and supra-glottal phonation are included under this definition, which is common in the field of linguistic phonetics.



The phonatory process, or voicing, occurs when air is expelled from the lungs through the glottis, creating a pressure drop across the larynx. When this drop becomes sufficiently large, the vocal folds start to oscillate. The minimum pressure drop required to achieve phonation is called the phonation threshold pressure, and for humans with normal vocal folds, it is approximately 2–3 cm H2O. The motion of the vocal folds during oscillation is mostly in the lateral direction, though there is also some superior component as well. However, there is almost no motion along the length of the vocal folds. The oscillation of the vocal folds serves to modulate the pressure and flow of the air through the larynx, and this modulated airflow is the main component of the sound of most voiced phones.

The sound that the larynx produces is a harmonic series. In other words, it consists of a fundamental tone (called the fundamental frequency, the main acoustic cue for the percept pitch) accompanied by harmonic overtones, which are multiples of the fundamental frequency[1] .[2] According to the Source-Filter Theory, the resulting sound excites the resonance chamber that is the vocal tract to produce the individual speech sounds.[3][4]

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