Tricky tongue twister tongue ties top talkers

Can you repeat this 10 times? “Pad kid poured curd pulled cold.”

It may not make much sense, but the tongue twister completely defeated volunteers taking part in a US speech study. Asked to repeat the phrase 10 times at a fast lick, many of the participants clammed up, lead researcher Dr Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.

The tongue twister study, presented at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in San Francisco, was conducted to shed light on the brain’s speech-planning processes.

Spoken too quickly, certain combinations of sounds appear to make people lose control of their mouths. Often, one sound seems to replace another. For instance, “top cop” becomes “cop cop”.

At least some of the time, researchers found mix-ups were not one sound or another, but something in between. In “top cop”, sometimes the T and C seemed to arrive at the same time (“t’kop”) and sometimes there was a delay with space for a vowel (“tah-kop”).

They studied two types of tongue twister, simple lists of paired words, and whole sentences. They found in the word list there was a preponderance of “t’kop” mistakes, but sentences produced more “tah-kop” errors. One possible clue to what is happening may be the regular rhythm of the lists compared with the more irregular timing of the sentences. But there seemed to be some overlap in the processes used to produce both types of speech.


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