Riddle me this
At first glance it doesn’t appear too difficult: ‘Pad kid poured curd pulled cold.’
Hmm…surely that tongue twister is not as hard as ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers’, ‘She sells seashells by the seashore’ or ‘Red lorry, yellow lorry’?
Well, try saying the phrase – which admittedly doesn’t make any sense – at speed. Not quite as easy is it?
So difficult, in fact, that psychologists in the US reckon it could be the most difficult tongue twister in the world.
Participants in a research programme at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who were asked to repeat the phrase 10 times at speed were positively flummoxed, with some even stopping talking altogether.
“If anyone can say it 10 times quickly, they get a prize,” said lead researcher Dr Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel.
Speech planning processes
The MIT study was conducted to gain a greater understanding of the brain’s speech planning processes.
“When things go wrong, that can tell you something about how the typical, error-free operation should go,” Dr Shattuck-Hufnagel said.
When spoken too quickly, some combinations of sounds can appear to make people lose control of their mouths, with one sound seeming to replace another.
An example is ‘toy boat’ which becomes ‘toy boyt’, or ‘top cop’ which becomes ‘cop cop’. The phrase ‘the seething sea ceaseth and thus the seething sea sufficeth us’ becomes a, well, sea of misplaced ‘s’s’ and ‘th’s’.
But mistakes can also be more subtle than that. In the ‘top cop’ example, sometimes the ‘t’ and ‘c’ can seem to be spoken almost at the same time (like ‘tkop’). And sometimes there is a delay between the two sounds with space for a vowel (like ‘tah-kop’).
The MIT team looked at two categories of tongue twister: simple lists of paired words, and whole sentences.
They found that in the paired word tongue twisters, there was a prevalence of the ‘t’kop’ errors. In contrast, the longer sentence twisters induced more of the ‘tah-kop’-type errors, with the longer delay and the presence of a short vowel after the consonant.
Translated tongue twisters
Translating tongue twisters can be a lot of fun, and certainly makes a phrase like ‘Pad kid poured curd pulled cold’ seem like mere child’s play.
Trentatré Trentini entrarono a Trento, tutti e trentatré, trotterellando (Thirty three Trentonians came into Trento, all thirty three trotting)
Rat vit riz, rat mit patte à ras, rat mit patte à riz, riz cuit patte à rat (Rat saw rice, rat put paw on the brim, rat put paw on the rice, rice burnt paw of rat)
Si la sierva que te sirve, no te sirve como sierva, de que sirve que te sirvas de una sierva que no sirve?
If the servant that serves you, doesn’t serve as a servant, of what use is the service of a servant that doesn’t serve?
We’ll leave those with you….