The other day, at work, I was trying to ask a colleague if they would be able to swap a shift with me. Well, I tried to ask them. I tried VERY HARD to ask them. ‘Would you mind doing a swift shop?’ was my first attempt. I quickly rectified it:’I meant a shwift sop.’ Hmmmm. Attempt three was something on the lines of ‘I mean, are you ok to shop a shwift with me?’ Easy enough to write, but my poor befuddled tongue just couldn’t get round the words. In future I will have to either ask:’Would it be convenient for you to exchange some of your rotas for some of mine?’ – or maybe just text!
The reason we struggle over tongue-twisters is the way our brains anticipate the next parts of a word or sentence before we’ve fully formed them. We are trying to synchronise the formation and choice of words in our brain; the necessary movements of our mouth, tongue and lips; the syntax of the words and also make the correct noises in the correct order. When you think that most of the time we manage all this fairly successfully it is actually an amazing achievement. Yet babies begin learning this skill from the moment they are born [and some believe they are absorbing linguistic rhythms, tones and other ‘building-blocks’ whilst still in the womb]. By the age of 2, most children have a vocabulary wide enough to meet their everyday needs [and embarrass their parents!] – aren’t humans fantastic?
I then got wondering about other tongue-twisters. Apparently, Peter Piper was a real French person called Pierre Poivre and the ‘She’ who sells seashells was Mary Anning, the famous Victorian fossil collector of Lyme Regis [ go to: http://tiny.cc/8s3eiy – I reckon it has more than a ring of truth to it].
Moving on, I found this awesome page dedicated to tongue-twisters in Tagalog [no, not an alien race, but one of the main languages of the Philippines].
I think no 7 is my favourite ‘pitumput-pitong puting pating‘. Could be fun to try after a drink or 4!
So, where do triple letters fit into this? We have many instances of double letters in English, as do many other Indo-European languages. However, do any words have triple letters? The answer is, unsurprisingly, ‘no’. Yet I was once walking in Bremen [one of the most wonderful cities in the world, trust me] and my eyes skimmed over a sign and tried to continue admiring the riverside scene, but my brain came to a mental full-stop, staggered and fell flat on its face. The word Schifffahrten was in my line of vision and I just could not process the three F’s I was reading. I almost felt my mind had been mugged; tricked; deluded….no word has the right to a triple letter. But, actually, the way German can stick words together, seemingly endlessly like a verbal game of dominoes, means this is possible and does happen.
Well, never in English, surely? But in Preston, on my way to work or the university, I usually walk past a branch of a certain clothes shop which, for some unfathomable reason, decided to remove the space in its name. Proudly emblazoned on the window, making my brain stop and do a double take almost every day, is MISSSELFRIDGE. Sob, sniff, snuffle…the PAIN. Please make it go away , someone?