Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tongue twisters

(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.


Funny Tongue Twisters said...

I found this interesting page Funny Tongue Twisters
Regards! said...

Yesterday, I saw this web Difficult Tongue Twisters. There are many tongue twisters to practice.

Anonymous said...

A tongue twister is a phrase, sentence or rhyme that presents difficulties when spoken because it contains similar sounds - Whistle for the thistle sifter, for example. To get the full effect of a tongue twister you should try to repeat it several times, as quickly as possible, without stumbling or mispronouncing.
Tongue Twisters
Tongue twisters have long been a popular form of wordplay, particularly for schoolchildren, but they also have a more serious side - being used in elocution teaching and in the treatment of some speech defects.
The collection of funny tongue twisters presented here, however, is purely for entertainment, and consists of many old favorites as well as some new ones - try to tackle tricksy tongue twisters today!

Anonymous said...

Tongue Twisters - an expression that is difficult to articulate clearly; "`rubber baby buggy bumper' is a tongue twister". Here at
Tongue Twisters
, we have collected and organized all short, hard, funny and difficult or the hardest of the tongue twisters from all over the web. If you have a tongue twisters that is not there on our site, please contribute it so that we can share it with the other visitors here. We plan to keep adding until this site is the #1 resource for tongue twisters online! Help us do that and contribute any tongue twisters you may have, short or long, funny or not funny, we will take them all :).

Anonymous said...

A tongue twister is defined as a phrase or sentence that is hard to speak fast, usually because of alliteration or a sequence of nearly similar sounds. To play a game of tongue twisters at
Tongue Twisters

you must repeat the shorter tongue twisters three or four times rapidly from memory without stumbling.

Marie said...

Hello, I am a French student, interested in linguistics and more particularly in tongue twisters. This year, I have to work on a "memoire", a kind of big work on a specific subject. I chose to work on Tongue twisters (linguistics, grammar, phonology...) Do you know any books, articles or anything else about tongue twisters?


tunxxyll tunxxyll said...

Hi, I'm from Indonesia. I need tongue twisters book, articles, or anything about tongue twisters for my study. Can you help me?
Thank you.