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The tongue has been frequently characterized as being composed of several functionally independent articulators. The question of functional regionality within the tongue was examined by quantifying the strength of coupling among four different tongue locations across a large number of consonantal contexts and participants. Tongue behavior during swallowing was also described. Vertical displacements of pellets affixed to the tongue were extracted from the x-ray microbeam database. Forty-six participants recited 20 vowel-consonant-vowel (VCV) combinations and swallowed 10 ccs of water. Tongue-surface movement patterns were quantitatively described by computing the covariance between the vertical time-histories of all possible pellet pairs. Phonemic differentiation in vertical tongue motions was observed as coupling varied predictably across pellet pairs with place of articulation. Moreover, tongue displacements for speech and swallowing clustered into distinct groups based on their coupling profiles. Functional independence of anterior tongue regions was evidenced by a wide range of movement coupling relations between anterior tongue pellets. The strengths and weaknesses of the covariance-based analysis for characterizing tongue movement are considered.