(I'm using Lucida Sans Unicode for the phonetic transcriptions in this post; I think most people have this on their computer, but if something's not rendering properly, you probably don't.)
As a phonologist, I'm always interested in tongue twisters. One of the classics in English is "She sells seashells by the seashore": ʃi sɛlz siʃɛlz baj ðə siʃɔɹ. Especially in the IPA version, it's easy to see the proliferation of alveolar and postalveolar fricatives, which is the source of difficulty in pronunciation. For English speakers, even simple words in other languages can be tongue twisters, especially if they contain sounds that aren't present in English, such as lateral fricatives or uvulars. The Kiksht word for 'eight' is a great example of this: ɢutɬqt. My recent facebook post about the Okanagan word for 'thistles' (sntkwlkwall'iw'stn' -- don't worry, there are some epenthetic schwas in there) led to some discussion of some of our favorite-sounding words in other languages. Bill Poser mentioned the Shuswap word for 'juniper': punllp (where ll is a lateral fricative), and I mentioned Bella Coola lhk'w-, 'tiny' (where hl is again a lateral fricative). Mithun (1999) gives a great one in Gitksan: nagáksdiː gáʔaɬ ɬagaχgáːkxʷɬ ɬagaxʷɢákʷɬ ɬagaχq’áːχɬ ɢáːqʰ, 'I have just seen for the very first time the toughness of the sinews of the wings of the raven.' Here the difficulty is in the combinations of lateral fricatives, velars, and uvulars, where velars and uvulars contrast within a syllable, and voicing varies. Adding to the difficulty is the similarity of the words. Also included is one from Choctaw: ʃɔ̃ʃi ʃwa ʃwakã iʃowã, 'Do you smell a stinking worm?' Besides the fact that people like to have fun with language, tongue twisters are probably common because people who speak disfluently are seen as less prestigious than those who are able to speak naturally and without error. Obviously nobody is capable of flawless speech 100% of the time, but we definitely judge those who make noticeable errors. Case in point: the Bushisms industry.
Jerome Stueart interview (pt. 3)
10 months ago