It’s time for part two of our Spotlight on Anatomy about the tongue. A few weeks ago, we detailed the muscles that make up the tongue root in this post. Today, we’re going to be talking about the muscles that make up the dorsum (the body) of the tongue.  

As a reminder, your tongue is comprised of eight different muscles. Four of these muscles are extrinsic: they extend from bone to tongue forming what we call the tongue root. The other four are intrinsic, meaning they are contained within the dorsum, which most of us think of as our actual tongue.
intrinsic muscles of the tongue

The four intrinsic tongue muscles (labeled in an almost-not-too-confusing way in the picture above!) are:

  • The two longitudinal muscles: the superior longitudinal muscle and the inferior longitudinal muscle. These two muscles have fibers that extend from the tip of the tongue to the back of the tongue. The superior muscle is above and the inferior is below (underneath the dorsum of the tongue). Think of these two muscles as the ones extending your tongue along the ‘z’ plane, front to back. When you contract these muscles, your tongue gets shorter.
  • The vertical muscle has fibers that go up and down. Think of this muscle as the one extending your tongue along the ‘y’ plane. When you contract this muscle, your tongue gets flatter.
  • The transverse muscle has fibers that go side to side. Think of this muscle as the one extending your tongue along the ‘x’ plane, side to side. When you contract this muscle, your tongue gets narrower (bunchier).

Want to play with these? Try these silly, fun exercises with Elissa.

In case you’re curious about what’s going on when you do this, here are our theories…

When you do “pancake” your tongue gets wide and flat. So that’s characterized by contraction of the vertical muscle, with release of the longitudinal and transverse muscles. Your tongue root muscles are also helping to extend your tongue out of your mouth.

When you do “sausage” your tongue gets narrow and bunched. This is characterized by contraction of the transverse muscle. The vertical and longitudinal muscles probably are mostly released going along for the ride, and again there is help from the tongue root muscles to extend your tongue out of your mouth.

When you do “frying pan” your tongue flaps in and out of your mouth. This is probably longitudinal muscles engaging and releasing, and vertical and transverse mostly going along for the ride. Again, the tongue root is involved too.

Why do these exercises? Well the more adeptly you can move these intrinsic muscles of your tongue, the more capacity you have for clear articulation. So play with this, include it as part of your warm up, and enjoy!

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