Diagram courtesy of Wikipedia
I looked up uvula, just to make sure I’d got the right word – I always check everything, even when I’m absolutely sure I’m correct – and found out some interesting facts. It’s fairly obvious that the uvula plays an important role in speech but for some people it does not close correctly against the back of the throat. This results in nasal speech when a lot of air comes down the nose and the speaker cannot articulate some consonants.
English has no uvular consonants, though many European and African countries do. The most remarkable example of uvular consonants is in the Khoisan or click languages of Southern and Eastern Africa.
Sometimes the uvula becomes swollen, typically in children with tonsillitis. Other causes include, among other things, dehydration, infection and allergic reaction. Some children are born with a split (bifid or bifurcated) uvula. New-born babies with a cleft palate will also have a split uvula.
Do you or your partner snore? Blame it on your uvula! It will not be a problem to people born in some parts of Ethiopian and Eritrea where a traditional healer removes all or part of the uvula. Strangely, this does not seem to result in nasal speech unless the tonsils have also been removed.
In the course of my reading I discovered something unbelievable! Some people have their uvulas pierced and decorated with rings. It is an unusual piercing, since there is a strong gag reflex associated with the uvula. There is also an associated health hazard for if the jewellery should come loose and be inhaled, surgery would be necessary to locate and remove it.