LINGUIST List 7.134

Sat Jan 27 1996

Sum: Tongue-twisters

Editor for this issue: Annemarie Valdez <>


  1. Ivan Uemlianin, Sum: tongue-twisters

Message 1: Sum: tongue-twisters

Date: Sat, 27 Jan 1996 18:17:56 GMT
From: Ivan Uemlianin <>
Subject: Sum: tongue-twisters
Dear linguists,

Here's a summary (far too late) of my tongue-twister correspondence.
Suggestions for further searches are listed at the end. As one can
see, there are quite a mix of mechanisms at work, with semantic
intererence often helping the phonological difficulties. The quest
shall continue, and when/if I can rustle up a decent bibliography
(including children's books and drinking games) I'll be back.

Thanks to: Jean Godby, Lynn Messing, Marion Kee, Tony Vitale, Don
Davis, John Reighard, Marianna Pool-Westgaard, Ted Harding, Malcolm
Ross, Tony Hall, Jason Handby, Janette Woolner, Heather Jordan, Val

Ed had edited it. (For maximum effect, try it with reduced stress on
"had": Ed'd edited it);

The sixth sick shiek's sixth sheep's sick. (A variant on what the
Guiness' Book of World records considers to be the hardest
tongue-twister in English).

She sifted thistles through her thistle-sifter. (Invented by a
colleague's mother).

Give me the gift of a grip top sock: a drip-drape, ship-shape tip-top
sock. (Learned in a college acting class.)

Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously.
For Moses, he knowses his toeses aren't roses, as Moses supposes his
toeses to be. (from "Singing in the rain". Danny Kaye also a great
supplier of tongue-twisters).

While we were walking, we were watching window washers wash
Washington's windows with warm washing water."

"Peggy Babcock" (to be said rapidly three times).

1. Red leather, yellow leather
2. Rubber baby buggy bumpers (a baby buggy is a pram in American English,
in case this one makes no sense)

(say these five times in rapid succession).

"Freshly fried fresh flesh"

A lady sees a pot-mender at work at his barrow in the street.
 "Are you copper-bottoming them, my man?"
 "No, I'm aluminiuming 'em, Mum"

Six twin screwed steel steam cruisers.

The crow flew over the river with a lump of raw liver.

Preshrunk silk shirts.

A bloke's bike back brake block broke.

Mixed biscuits.

She stood by Burgess's fish sauce shop welcoming him in.

Tie twine to three tree twigs.

I am not a pheasant plucker,
I'm a pheasant plucker's son
but I'll be plucking pheasants
When the pheasant plucker's gone.
(careful with this one)

She sells sea shells on the sea shore, the shells she sells are sea
shells I'm sure.


 strc prst skrz krk (all 'r' are vocalic)
 'stick [your] finger through [your] throat'


In Ulm und um Ulm und um Ulm herum.
"In Ulm and around Ulm and around Ulm again."

A Mandarin Chinese tongue-twister, typed in pinyin, with accents (`') as

 ` ` ` ' ` '
si shi si, shi shi shi, 4 is 4, 10 is 10,

 ' ` ` ` ' '
shi si shi si he shi, 14 is 4 and 10,

 ` ' ` ` ` ' ` '
si shi si shi si he si shi. 44 is 4 and 40.

* the i's are not pronounced as vowels; si is pronounced more or less as
sszz, said quickly, with the tongue almost between the teeth.
* shi is like shrrr, except that the tongue is strongly retroflexed to the
* for both sibilant syllables, the lips are unrounded, and the tongue, jaw,
and lips move not at all.
* in "he," the "h" is a velar fricative, even uvular. the e is pronounced
as "oh-aw," with unrounded lips; the u of "but" is an acceptable
approximation. i'm afraid that said properly, "he" sounds like someone
* ' means 2nd tone, or rising tone, like our "shh???"
* ` means 4th tone, or falling tone, like our "shh!!!"

thus, this tongue-twister uses only those sounds in chinese that are
hardest and most unfamiliar to westerners. the rapid and irregular
alternation of only two tones, which is rare in chinese speech, doesn't
make it any easier. note also that i've presented a standard northern
pronunciation; a speaker from nanjing or taiwan would pronounce both shi
and si as
sszz, making the tongue-twister more striking and all but incomprehensible,
even to a native speaker, i suspect.


Tres tristes tigres ('three sad tigers' - this is part of a longer one, but
I can't remember the rest of it; anyhow, this is the difficult part, which
after a time or two starts coming out "tres tristes t*r*iges").


Enlist the aid of a children's librarian.

Check out drinking games.

"Where the Tongue Slips, There Slip I" by Charles Hockett. I think it was
published in Scientific American but not positive. Look at his refs. for
more work on tongue twisters.

Ilse Lehiste's book 'Slips of the tongue'.

Shattuck-Hufnagel, Stefanie, 1992. The role of word structure in segmental
serial ordering. Cognition, 42: 213-259.

Dr. Ivan Uemlianin eMail:
Teaching fellow aka:
Psychology Department voice: +44 248 382649
University of Wales, Bangor fax: +44 248 382599
Gwynedd, Wales postcode: LL57 2DG
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