World's Hardest Tongue Twister Created By MIT: Can You Say It?

By Josh Lieberman on December 5, 2013 2:45 PM EST

tongue
A team lead by MIT researcher Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel has devised one of the world's toughest tongue twisters: "pad kid poured curd pulled cod." (Photo: Shutterstock)

Researchers have come up with what may be the world's toughest tongue twister: if you can repeatedly say the phrase "pad kid poured curd pulled cod," then congratulations, your verbal dexterity is off the charts. (If you can come up with an explanation for what that sentence could possibly mean, then you're a mad genius.) MIT researchers asked volunteers to repeat that tongue twister, and some of them were so flummoxed that they stopped speaking altogether.

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MIT psychologist Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel and colleagues from four other institutions recorded volunteers saying the "pad kid" phrase along with a number of other tongue twisters, like "the top cop saw a cop top." How verbal slip-ups occur during tongue twisters can give researchers insight into the brain's speech-planning processes. "When things go wrong, that can tell you something about how the typical, error-free operation should go," said Shattuck-Hufnagel.

The researchers found that the volunteers made spoonerisms, meaning the accidental swapping of the beginnings of two words (like "blow your nose" becoming "know your blows"). But they also found that some mistakes were less straightforward than accidental letter-swaps. When volunteers said "the top cop saw a cop top," they sometimes mashed the "t" and "c" sounds together, saying something like "tkop." Sometimes it came out more similar to "tah-kop," with a space between the "t" and "c" sounds.   

Volunteers made some of the same mistakes when they said a list of tongue-twisting words as they did when they said an entire tongue-twisting sentence. Shattuck-Hufnagel said this similarity suggests that there is an overlap in the brain processes used to produce both full sentences and shorter lists. Shattuck-Hufnagel and her team hope to find out more about those overlaps in the next phase of their research, which will place transducers on the tongues of volunteers to measure speech articulation.

Shattuck-Hufnagel will present her findings today at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. Her talk will be based on her recent paper, "A comparison of speech errors elicited by sentences and alternating repetitive tongue twisters."

If by now you're wondering where you can find a list of 3,560 tongue twisters, you're in luck. Here is a such a list, with tongue twisters in 118 languages. It includes such gems as "If Stu chews shoes, should Stu choose the shoes he chews?" and the Finnish tongue twister "Minä olen Pekka Pokka ja pokkani pitää," which Google translates as "I am Pekka Pokka and keep a straight face." Whatever you say, Google.

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