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In which Hank proves that he can think too much about ANYTHING by thinking too much about Tongue Twisters. It's all about the sibilant fricatives baby. Tongue twisters are actually a universal game that all people play regardless of language. The best ones have a few qualities:

1. They will trip you up
2. They're fun to say when you get it right
3. Opportunities for Embarassment
4. Excellent Rhythm and cadence and possibly rhyme as well.

Psycho-linguists (yes, that's a thing) still don't know exactly why tongue twisters trip people up, but they do know that it has more to do with the mind than the tongue. But the point is that speech is far more complicated and wonderful than we generally give it credit for, and tongue twisters are one of the few opportunities we really get to enjoy how amazing it really is.

Non-English Tongue Twisters:


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A Bunny
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Good Morning John. People will often say, down in the comments, that I'm pretty good at talking really fast and by now, I kinda agree - I've had a lot of practice. But John there are a few secrets to being able to talk really well, really fast.

One of them you can see here in this outtakes video that we did, in which you see the number of times that we screw up. But another of the secrets has to do with cadence, and fricatives, and plosives and stops. This has led me into a bit of an obsession with tongue twisters and that is why I know what a sibilant fricative is. A fricative is a noise that you make by putting two parts of your mouth very close together and blowing air through them. Basically. Like 'f' or 'th' or 's' or 'sh'. Fricatives are one of the most complicated things that your mouth will ever do. Even if you are thinking of something dirty, fricatives are more complicated than that.

So when I say "She sells sea shells by the sea shore", I'm alternating between two very similar sibilant fricatives and the difference is so slight that my brain gets confused about which one I should be doing next. Which is why when I say "the shells she sells are sea shore shells", "shells, the shells she shells, the shell she sells are sea shore, the shells she, the shells she sells are sea shore shells" which I've had much less practice at, I screw up so much. Interestingly, the things that your tongue have to do play a part in tongue twisters but it is probably more of a mind twister than a tongue twister. People reading tongue twisters silently actually take longer to read tongue twisters than non-tongue twisting sentences. I know, it's weird!

Other fricatives are also hard like "f" but its even harder when you're mixing fricatives like "f" and "sh", like "fisherman". Like "The fisherman named Fisher who was fishing for fish in a fissure until a fish with a grin pulled Fisher the fisherman in. Now they're fishing for Fisher in the fissure". That tongue twister relies on more than fricatives, it also relies on homophones words that are different but sound exactly the same.

And then we have a thing that I can't find a name for so I've been calling pseudophones. Pseudophones are words that are similar but not quite the same and if you say them wrong, everything explodes. For example my absolute favorite tongue twister "I slit the sheet, the sheet I slit, and on the slitted sheet I sit". The pseudophones in this case being slit, sheet and sit. What's worse is that there are several other pseudophones like seat, sleet and another one and the more frequently you say those other pseudophones, the more frequently you will accidentally jump to them while you're talking about the "slitted sheet". The reason why this is my favorite tongue twister is because people always end up "s ing on the slitted sheet". Another important note about the "slitted sheet" is that its entirely iambic. Meaning that accented and non accented words alternate and that almost every accent falls on a pseudophone: "I slit the sheet, the sheet I slit, and on the slitted sheet I sit".

Which brings me to what it is I think is the most important point about tongue twisters. The recognized hardest tongue twisters are things like the "sheiks sixth sick sheep" but you never hear about the "sheiks sixth sick sheep". Just having a dense forest of sibilant fricatives is, you know, that's hard but it's not interesting. So what is interesting about tongue twisters? Why do we do it? Why do we have them and why are they prevalent in every single language including American Sign Language. Finger fumblers: they have them in sign language too.

You can analyze all day why tongue twisters are hard but the reason why we do them is because they're fun. The thing that our mouth and our vocal cords and our diaphragm and our lungs all do together to make words, is really amazing. And you could easily argue that it is what makes us special as a species. When you start doing tongue twisters you start to understand and see how complicated and beautiful and interesting it all is. Which is why I reached out to Nerdfighteria on Twitter and I asked people to give me tongue twisters in their native language because even if you don't understand what these people are saying, the things that their mouths are doing are amazing. So, real quick, I just wanted to share a few of 'em:
[A tongue twister in Palestinian Arabic]
[A tongue twister in Dutch]
[A tongue twister in Icelandic]
[A tongue twister in Amharic]
[A tongue twister in French]
[A tongue twister in Cantonese]
[A tongue twister in Norwegian]

You can see, by watching this, that there is something universal about tongue twisters and its not just sibilant fricatives. The universal thing really is humanity and that we enjoy having fun. There's some more non-English tongue twisters in my pants and John if you don't have a copy of 'Fox in Socks', I'm sending my copy for Henry. John, I'll see you on Wednesday.

Thank you for the assistance of Professor of Linguistics Joel Anderson and also to his friend Anne for getting him in touch with me. And to all of you in the comments who are shouting right now that I must be punished for making a video that is longer than four minutes, I must remind you of the Nerdfighter montage exception and thus I remain punishment free. Now I have a final tongue twister for you: "Betty Botter bought some butter, 'But,' she said, 'the butter's bitter; if I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter; but a bit of better butter, will make my batter better.' So she bought some better butter, better than the bitter butter, and she put it in her batter, and her batter was not bitter; so 'twas Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter."