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Tongue Twisters: Study Explains Why They Are So Hard

iStock_000018390605XSmall“Come on mom, do it,” my young daughter implored me.

“Not right now, maybe later,” I replied. Later would be better, I wouldn’t be multi-tasking like a maniac (or an average mom) and I would be done with my cup of coffee.

“No, noooooowwwww, pleaaaaasseeeee,” she pleaded.

“Okay, okay,” I said just to get to stop her nagging.

“‘She sells sea shells at the store store’, I mean, ‘she shells she shells at at the she shore,’ I mean, ‘she sells she shells at sea store’. Yeah, I , a grown adult couldn’t get a simple tongue twister right. Which, really is a shame, seeing that my 1st grader was recently introduced to the verbal game and has decided they are the best thing ever. Especially when the “big people” can’t get it right.  I remember when I was a girl, feeling that same form of delight from a good tongue twister and I could ‘woodchuck’, ‘Peter Piper’ and  ‘she sells seashells,’ along with the best of them. But not anymore. And now I think I know why. It’s all in the timing.

Dr Edward Chang and his research team from the University of California San Francisco, studied three different patients, “being implanted with brain electrodes in preparation for epilepsy surgery.” They began to study how speech manifests itself saying, that, :speaking is so fundamental to who we are as humans – nearly all of us learn to speak. But it’s probably the most complex motor activity we do.” They research team, “then examined the “timing” of activity and found that like creating the music of a symphony, speaking involved complex co-ordination of the various sites within the ventral sensorimotor cortex “on the scale of tens of milliseconds”.  And that, speaking involves all the following: the lips, tongue, jaw and larynx.

Their data, ” distinguished front-of-the-tongue consonants (like ‘sa’), back-of-the-tongue consonants (like ‘ga’), and lip consonants (‘pa’); vowels split into those that require rounded lips (‘ooh’) or not (‘ee’).”

“This implies that tongue twisters are hard because the representations in the brain greatly overlap,”  Dr Chang said to Nature.  Also noted was that, “Sss’ and ‘Shh’, for example, are both recognized by the brain as front-of-the-tongue sounds, so it more easily confuses these than sounds made by different parts of the tongue.” Which means that, “she sells sea shells by the sea shore’ is more difficult to say than ‘he sells sea snails by the green door.'”

So next time you are given a tongue twister, take your time. and remember it’s just your ventral sensorimotor cortex and that damn brain overlap to blame.
Can you do a simple tongue twister, or do you find your tongue has troubles?
Photo Source: istockphoto

Read more from Sunny Chanel right here.

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