Effect of voicing and articulation manner on aerosol particle emission during human speech

PLoS One. 2020 Jan 27;15(1):e0227699. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0227699. eCollection 2020.


Previously, we demonstrated a strong correlation between the amplitude of human speech and the emission rate of micron-scale expiratory aerosol particles, which are believed to play a role in respiratory disease transmission. To further those findings, here we systematically investigate the effect of different 'phones' (the basic sound units of speech) on the emission of particles from the human respiratory tract during speech. We measured the respiratory particle emission rates of 56 healthy human volunteers voicing specific phones, both in isolation and in the context of a standard spoken text. We found that certain phones are associated with significantly higher particle production; for example, the vowel /i/ ("need," "sea") produces more particles than /ɑ/ ("saw," "hot") or /u/ ("blue," "mood"), while disyllabic words including voiced plosive consonants (e.g., /d/, /b/, /g/) yield more particles than words with voiceless fricatives (e.g., /s/, /h/, /f/). These trends for discrete phones and words were corroborated by the time-resolved particle emission rates as volunteers read aloud from a standard text passage that incorporates a broad range of the phones present in spoken English. Our measurements showed that particle emission rates were positively correlated with the vowel content of a phrase; conversely, particle emission decreased during phrases with a high fraction of voiceless fricatives. Our particle emission data is broadly consistent with prior measurements of the egressive airflow rate associated with the vocalization of various phones that differ in voicing and articulation. These results suggest that airborne transmission of respiratory pathogens via speech aerosol particles could be modulated by specific phonetic characteristics of the language spoken by a given human population, along with other, more frequently considered epidemiological variables.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aerosols
  • Air Microbiology
  • Cough / microbiology
  • Cough / physiopathology
  • Exhalation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phonetics
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / microbiology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / transmission*
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Speech Acoustics
  • Speech Articulation Tests
  • Voice / physiology
  • Young Adult


  • Aerosols