If Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Global Tongue-Twisters


As if learning a new language weren’t hard enough . . . here are some tongue twisters from around the world to remind you that talking isn’t always easy even for native speakers:

Need more ways to twist your polylingual tongue? Then go to the “1st International Collection of Tongue Twisters,” which boasts 3,660 entries in 118 languages.

Even American Sign Language (ASL) has it’s own tongue. . . uh . . . finger twis- . . . uh . . . “finger fumblers.” Here’s an example:

If you’re wondering what the hardest tongue twister in the world is, Google will point you to several articles claiming that the top spot belongs to “pad kid poured curd pulled cod.” (Try it for yourself.) That list of words was put together by researchers at MIT, while using tongue twisters to study the “brain’s speech-planning processes.”

But is “pad kid poured curd pulled cod” really the toughest thing to say on the planet? That’s a pretty bold claim to make. First of all, choosing a phrase in English would seem pretty lingo-centric. And second, even Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel, the psycholinguist at MIT who presented the study’s results, says no such thing. “I make no claims,” she tells NPR’s Ira Flatow, “to have found the hardest, the mother of all difficult tongue twisters.”

Maybe you’re not into tongue twisters at all (though, in that case, I’m not sure why you’re still reading this). Maybe you don’t like making things more difficult than they have to be. Maybe, you agree with the comedian Brian Regan, who thinks it’s enough of an accomplishment to speak English—by itself without any added challenges. Here’s what he has to say on the topic in his show “Standing Up”:

Can you imagine being bilingual? Would that be . . .  Or even knowing anybody that was? I’m not even unilingual. Actually, I shouldn’t say that. I don’t give myself enough credit. I know . . . I know enough English to, like, you know, get by, you know. No, like, like, I can order in restaurants and stuff, you know. “I want ham. One ham, please, to eating the ham. Bring ham to eating the ham, please.” I can do that. You know, just not fluent, I guess.

(American Institute of Physics, “Tripped Tongues Teach Speech Secrets,” EurekaAlert!, December 4, 2013; Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel, et al., “A Comparison of Speech Errors Elicited by Sentences and Alternating Repetitive Tongue Twisters,” The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, December 2013; “Speech Science: Tongue Twisters and Valley Girls,” Science Friday, NPR, December 6, 2018; Brian Regan, “Standing Up,” 2007)

[photo: “Terribly Tongue Tied,” by Brian, used under a Creative Commons license]


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