This is maybe unexpected, but the following list of most famous Tongue Twisters will teach you a lot on European culture and history. In some countries, as in Italy or England, the tongue twisters are based on historical events, and this is quite impressive. In other countries as in Czech Republic or Estonia, they are just really funny. And naturally for the majority of them, they are unpronounceable! This is one of those little things that may explain, as mention by Broderick Crawford, why I like Europe so much!
“O Rato roeu a roupa do Rei de Rússia e a Rainha, raivosa, rasgou o resto”
Do you know why there is no Russian King anymore? This Portuguese ‘trava-línguas’ based on the sound [ʁ] just confirms that they were actually mistreated. Why? Because “the rat nibbled the clothes of the Russian King, and the angry Queen tore the rest”
“Tres tristes tigres tragaban trigo en un trigal.”
In Spain, “three sad tigers swallowed wheat on a wheat field”. If the presence of tigers in Spain is to be investigated, this renowned Spanish ‘trabalengua’ offers nevertheless the opportunity to practice the differentiation between the sounds [tr], [g] and [s].
“Les chaussettes de l’archi-duchesse, sont-elles sèches, archi-sèches ?”
The French most famous ‘virelangue’ is a mix between socks and aristocracy, the whole considered as an exercise on the sounds [s] and [ʃ]. Translated in English, it means “The socks of the archduchess are they dry? Extra dry?”.
“Það fer nú að verða verra ferðaveðrið”
You had difficulties to pronounce the name of the Icelandic volcano? Just try this Icelandic tongue twister which deals with bad weather too. In English, it would signify “It is getting worse, the travelling weather”.
“Ná bac le mac an bhacaigh agus ní bhacaigh mac an bhacaigh leat”
In Ireland, it is strictly recommended not to “bother the beggar’s son and the beggar’s son won’t bother you”. You won’t say you were not informed properly.
“She sells sea-shells on the sea-shore. The shells she sells are sea-shells, I’m sure. For if she sells sea-shells on the sea-shore. Then I’m sure she sells sea-shore shells.”
One of the most famous English tongue-twister with the sounds [s] and [ʃ] was inspired by the life of Mary Anning, a British fossil collector, dealer and palaeontologist during the 19th century. In 1908, Terry Sullivan wrote a song integrating this tongue-twister in the lyrics.
“Ibsens ripsbusker og andre buskvekster“
Norwegians tend to be good gardeners, and “Ibsen’s redcurrant bushes and other shrubs” seem to be appreciated. This ‘tungekrøll’ is an exercise on the pronunciation of [Bʉ] and [s].
“Sju sjösjuka sjömän sköttes av sju sköna sjuksköterskor”
Sweden is a nation of fishermen. It is then quite logical that its ‘Tungvrickare’ would be a story about “Seven seasick seamen [who] were cared for by seven beautiful nurses”.
“Vesihiisi sihisi hississä”
The trolls are everywhere in Nordic countries and especially in Finnland where they have their own ‘Sanahirviö’ meaning “A water troll was hissing in the elevator”.
“Rød grød med fløde“
The “red porridge with cream” is a Danish dessert similar to a pudding made of groat and a not less famous Danish tongue twister. You have difficulties to read it? No problem, the phonetics will certainly help you: [ˈʁœðˀgʁœðˀ] (or not)
“Kapper Knap, de knappe kapper, knipt en kapt heel knap, maar de knecht van kapper Knap, de knappe kapper, knipt en kapt nog knapper dan kapper Knap, de knappe kapper“
One of the most famous Dutch ‘tongbreker‘ deals with handsome barber. It is much easier to read it in English: “The handsome barber cuts hair well, but the handsome helper of the handsome barber cuts hair more handsomely than the handsome barber can cut it.”
“Des bounès holès molès wåfes“
Belgian official languages are Dutch, French and German. But there are also regional languages such as Walloon which offers the opportunity to discover famous ‘Toitche-linwe’.
“Wann aeren Decken eisen Decken nach eng Keier Decke vernennt, vernennt eisen Decken aeren decken esou laang Decke bis aeren Decken eisen Decken net mei decke vernennt.“
The long ‘Zungenbrecher’ from Luxembourg is quite funny. It means “If your fat man calls our fat man “fat man” one more time, then our fat man will call your fat man “fat man” until your fat man doesn’t call our fat man “fat man” any more.”
“Fischers Fritz fischt frische Fische, frische Fische fischt Fischers Fritz.“
The German prominent ‘Zungenbrecher’ could also be a Tongue-Twister in English: “Fisher’s Fritz fishes fresh fish, fresh fish are fished by fisher’s Fritz.”
“De Paapscht hät z’Schpiez s’Schpäckschpickpschteck z’schpaat pschtellt.“
The Swiss German ‘Zugenbrecher’ is about the Pope, who may be known for his appetite. Indeed, “in Spiez, the Pope ordered his cutlery too late”
“Trentatré trentini entrarono a Trento, tutti e trentatré trotterellando di tratto in tratto“.
In English “Thirty-three Trentine people came into Trento, all the thirty-three trotting along”. One of the most famous Italian ‘scioglilingua’ has a historical value, as Trentine people entered the city of Trento in 1919 after the First World War. In reality the number was greater than 33 but it still points out that it was an operation conducted by a few people.
“Dari rari tara lira, tara lira, tara re”
In Malta, the ‘Tagħwiġ l-Ilsien’ is about the Maltese old currency, the Lira and the cupidity of Kings: “In days gone by you rarely saw a Lira when you see a Lira you see a King”.
“Blaukraut bleibt Blaukraut und Brautkleid bleibt Brautkleid”.
Austrian ‘Zugenbrecher’ remains quite traditional as it fits in the overall long-established gastronomy and folklore. “Red cabbage stays red cabbage and bridal dress stays a bridal dress.”
“Strč prst skrz krk”
The Czech ‘Jazykolam’ meaning “stick your finger through your throat“, is well known for its total absence of vowels. Czech Republic people sometimes used this Tongue-Twister to judge whether or not a particular person is drunk.
“V našej peci myši pištia, v našej peci psík spí.”
Slovak children often exercise their pronunciation on this ‘Jazykolamy’ translated in English as “In our oven mice squeak, in our oven a dog sleeps”.
“Fekete bikapata kopog a patika pepita köveken.”
In Hungary, children tend to play with the correct pronunciation of the sentence meaning “Black bull hooves knocking on the black and white checked floortiles of a pharmacy”, which is maybe the most famous Hungarian Nyelvtörő.
“W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie”
Many native Polish speakers are not able to read perfectly the poem Chrząszcz by Jan Brzechwa. The first sentence of this poem, meaning “in Szczebrzeszyn a beetle buzzes in the reed” is a famous Polish ‘Łamaniec językowy’. Try with the phonetics! [fʃt͡ʃɛbʒɛˈʃɨɲɛ ˈxʃɔ̃w̃ʃt͡ʃ ˈbʒmi ˈftʃt͡ɕiɲɛ]
“Šešios žąsys su šešiais žąsyčiais.”
The Lithuanian ‘Greitakalbė’ is a test to pronounce the differences between the sounds [s] and [ʃ]. It means “Six geese with six goslings”.
“Dzīvē dzīvo dzīvu dzīvi! Dzīvam dzīvē dzīva dzīve.”
Latvian people tend to be very joyful, such as in their ‘ātrruna’, translated in English as following: “In your life live a lively life! A lively person lives a lively life”.
“Kuuuurija istus töööös jääääres”
Estonian ‘Keelemäng’ looks as if somebody has fallen asleep on his keyboard. There is actually no mistake in this. It’s just that Estonian words contain many vowels. It means “The moon-scientist sat in a working night at the edge of the ice”
“Шла Саша по шоссе и сосала сушку”
In the Latin Alphabet, this Belarusian and Russian ‘скороговорки’ would be written as following “Shla Sasha po shosse i sosala sushku”. It means “Sasha walked down the highway and sucked on a dry cracker”.
“Бавились в брудній баюрі два бобри брунатно-бурі. – “Правда добре, друже бобре?”- “Дуже добре, брате бобре!””
Ukraine introduce us a whole dialogue for its ‘Скоромовка’. In English, “Two grey-brown beavers were fooling in a mudhole. “Isn’t it good, my friend?” – “Very good, my brother!“”
“Ştiu că ştiu că ştiuca-i ştiucă şi mai ştiu că ştiuca-i peşte”.
The Moldovan ‘Frântură de limbă’ is in Romanian and is a play on the word ştiucă which has two significations: “I know that I know that pike is a pike and I also know that pike is a fish”.
“Capra calcă piatra/piatra crapă-n patru/crăpa-i-ar capul caprei/cum a crăpat capra piatra-n patru”
There are many Romanian ‘Frântură de limbă’ on goats, but this one, which takes the form of a rhyme may be the most famous in Romania. It signifies “The goat stepped on the rock/the rock broke in four/may the goat’s head break in four/as the goat broke the rock in four”.
“Klobuk pod klopco.”
“A hat under a bench” This is the Slovenian ‘Tornado jezik’. It looks easy, but it is quite difficult to pronounce if you are a non-native speaker.
“Petar Petru plete petlju”
In Croatia, the ‘Jezikolomci’ is about a friendship between Peter and Peter, the one knitting a knot for the other. Isn’t it lovely? “Peter knits a knot for Peter”.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
“Риба риби гризе реп”
Pronounced in Latin alphabet as “Riba ribi grize rep”, the Bosnian ‘Jezikolomci’ means “one fish bites another fishes tail”.
“На врх брда врба мрда”
In Serbia, the ‘фраза тешка за изговарање’ (tongue-twisters) written in Latin alphabet as “Na vrh brda vrba mrda” means “On the top of the hill osier moves.”
“На врв брда врба мрда.”
The Macedonian ‘брзозборка’ approximatively means “Top hills willow moving”.
“Kali, karroca, karroca, karocierri.”
Let’s ride the Albanian ‘Tornado gjuha’ which means “Horse, coach, coach, coachman!”
“Петър плет плете, през три пръта преплита. Подпри, Петре, плета, падна, Петре, плетът”
Peter is coming back! And this time, he tries to pass a fence in the Bulgarian ‘Скоропоговорката’ : “Peter is plashing a fence. He skips every three rods. Prop up the fence, Peter. The fence is down, Peter”.
“Άσπρη πέτρα ξέξασπρη και απ’τον ήλιο ξεξασπρότερη”
In Greece, the most famous ‘Γλωσσοδέτης’ is full of light just as the country can be in summer. It is translated as “A white stone very bright, even brighter than the sun”
“Şu yoğurdu sarımsaklasak da mı saklasak, sarımsaklamasak da mı saklasak?”
And finally in Turkey, the ‘Tekerleme’ is an existential question: “Should we add garlic in that yogurt and keep it then, or should we not add garlic and keep it?”
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