The old saying “Sally sold seashells by the seashore” has nothing on a tongue twister created by researchers at MIT. The verbal puzzle, “pad kid poured curd pulled cod,” tripped up test subjects who tried to spit it out so much, that psychologists believe it could be the toughest one there is to date.
“If anyone can say this [phrase] ten times quickly, they get a prize,” said Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel, a psychologist from MIT who specializes in speech errors as a way of understanding normal brain functions, and one of the creators of the mouth-boggling phrase.
On Thursday Shattuck-Hufnagel is presenting her research about the comparison of two types of tongue twisters, including the difficult phrase, at the Acoustical Society of America in San Francisco. The presentation will be based on research conducted with a team from MIT, where scientists recorded the misspoken sounds for terms like “top cop,” and “toy boat,” to see what errors people produced.
The researchers recorded volunteers saying combinations of alternating words that fell into two categories: simple lists of words, such as the “top cop” example, and full-sentence versions of the same sounds with an inversion, such as “the top cop saw a cop top,” according to a statement about the research. After listening to the recordings, the analysts found that there were patterns in the slip-ups when volunteers tried to annunciate certain strings of similar sounding words. Based on that, they tried to induce different types of double onsets, commonly referred to as double sound mistakes by linguists.
“When things go wrong [when speaking], that can tell you something about how the typical, error-free operation should go,” Shattuck-Hufnagel said.
When they created the combination of words in the phrase “pad kid poured curd pulled cod,” it was so difficult, that participants either couldn’t repeat it, or simply stopped trying altogether.
Because errors occurred for both categories they tested, researchers believe there could be an underlying connection between how the brain takes in the information, and then spits it out of a person’s mouth. “You can get both kinds of errors in both kinds of planning,” she said.
Shattuck-Hufnagel’s presentation will be based on research with MIT scientists, and colleagues from Wellesley University, Haskins Laboratories, and Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich. The discussion will look at findings from a paper titled, “A comparison of speech errors elicited by sentences and alternating repetitive tongue twisters.”
They are already working on the next phase of their research, which includes putting tiny transducers on peoples’ tongues in order to measure their articulation.
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