Although volumetric displacements of the chest wall are often analyzed in terms of two independent parallel pathways (rib cage and abdomen), Loring and Mead have argued that these pathways are not mechanically independent (J. Appl. Physiol. 53: 756-760, 1982). Because of its apposition with the diaphragm, the rib cage is exposed to two distinct pressure differences, one of which depends on abdominal pressure. Using the analysis of Loring and Mead as a point of departure, we developed a complementary analysis in which mechanical coupling of the rib cage, abdomen, and diaphragm is modeled by a linear translational transformer. This model has the advantage that it possesses a precise electrical analogue. Pressure differences and compartmental displacements are related by the transformation ratio (n), which is the mechanical advantage of abdominal over pleural pressure changes in displacing the rib cage. In the limiting case of very high lung volume, n----0 and the pathways uncouple. In the limit of very small lung volume, n----infinity and the pathways remain coupled; both rib cage and abdomen are driven by abdominal pressure alone, in accord with the Goldman-Mead hypothesis. A good fit was obtained between the model and the previously reported data for the human chest wall from 0.5 to 4 Hz (J. Appl. Physiol. 66:350-359, 1989). The model was then used to estimate rib cage, diaphragm, and abdominal elastance, resistance, and inertance. The abdomen was a high-elastance high-inertance highly damped compartment, and the rib cage a low-elastance low-inertance more lightly damped compartment. Our estimate that n = 1.9 is consistent with the findings of Loring and Mead and suggests substantial pathway coupling.