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Tongue twister?

[ 2010-12-07 15:22]     字号 [] [] []  
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Tongue twister?

Reader question:

Please explain “a tongue-twister of a dispute”? Tongue-twister?

My comments:

If a dispute is described as a tongue-twister, it’s a difficult one to describe, and hence perhaps a very tricky problem to solve.

A tongue twister, you see, is just something that’s difficult to pronounce, as though one has to twist (as in the “twists and turns” of a country road or a movie plot) one’s tongue in order to sound properly. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former body builder for example, has a heck of a body with a tongue twister of a name to boot. I dare guess not many people dare mess with someone with a name like that. Perhaps he should next run for the White House, having been made Governor of California.

For another example, I always thought Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is a tongue twister of a name for the young Chinese English learner to cope with, as well as is Thrush Cross Grange, the name of Edgar Linton’s residence. Daunted by these names and others, many a young reader has not been able to finish the book, and a wonderful it is, too.

The English language as a whole, you may argue, is a tongue twister. My English teacher used to ask us to say aloud “How, Now, Brown, Cow” and the whole class learned what the word “mouthful” meant, or felt, to be exact.

Comfortingly, though, the English say the same thing about the Chinese language – most difficult, says one and, indeed, say all.

Some Chinese tongue twisters in one vernacular are difficult even to other Chinese who speak a different accent. The famous “Si Shi Shi Si Shi (forty is forty); Shi Si Shi Shi Si (fourteen is fourteen)” in mandarin, for example, is known to have failed many a Northeasterner. The best they can manage is “事实是事实,时事是时事”. Or, to translate, “facts are facts; current affairs are current affairs.”

See, totally different things – but they sound the same the way the Northeasterners tell them: Shi Shi Shi Shi Shi; Shi Shi Shi Shi Shi.

Next time you meet a Chinese language learner from the West, try the “Si, Shi” line on them.

Before then, however, try these English lines (from the simple to the more complicated) to see how English tongue twisters torment you – and please quit the exercise the first moment it makes you feel like the sixth sheik’s six sheep (see bottom of the text to find out exactly how that feels):

Greek grapes.

Red lorry yellow lorry (repeat).

She sells seashells on the seashore.

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Quick-witted cricket critic.

The sixth sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)