Tuesday January 3, 2006

NPR Tongue Twisters

Last week on NPR's All Things Considered, there was an interesting story about a New York high school theater program that uses tongue twisters and other language games in their native languages to get students interested and involved.  Here's an exercise for you linguists: follow the link to the story, open up the audio version, fast-forward to about 1:14, and then start transcribing—go ahead, I dare you.

Does anyone recognize the languages being twisted?  (Or does the language twist your tongue in a tongue-twister?)  It's too bad the language samples are overlapped, otherwise I'd propose, as a cruel prank, playing them to an introductory linguistics or phonetics class as an in-class transcription exercise.  When the students protest, the instructor/prankster then says, "Well, that's what language sounds like.  You might as well start practicing now."  Come to think of it, this might not be so much a prank as a valuable learning experience.  Transcription of rapid speech is hard.

[Now playing: "Half-Gifts" by Cocteau Twins]

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Long ago, when I started grad school and was a newly-minted foreign-language TA, for our first day of TA training they had a professor come in and do a rapid-fire lesson -- like, really, really rapid-fire -- in Serbo-Croatian. The idea was to instill in us an, er, appreciation for how incomprehensible our students were going to find us when we started teaching them. Definitely a humbling experience.

Posted by: mike at Jan 3, 2006 7:20:03 PM