Wednesday 13 October 2010

tongue twister

Our choirmaster makes us warm up in the usual way by performing various singing exercises. One thing we have to do is to get ourselves to concentrate properly on what we are doing (“move into the zone”), for which we have to sing tongue twisters. In one of them, we repeat the words red lorry, yellow lorry at speed up the scale, then orange lorry, yellow lorry back down the scale. It’s remarkably difficult to get it right.

If native speakers find it tricky, think of what the Japanese would make of it.

You can sympathize with the Americans, who call it a ‘truck’ rather than a ‘lorry’.

I wonder why the 80s rock band Red Lorry Yellow Lorry chose a tongue twister as their name.

* * *

I know it’s a sign of old age to complain about the ignorance of the young, but there you are. Today’s complaint concerns a bouncy new ITV newsreader presenting the local news for the London area, who doesn’t know how to pronounce Godalming, a town of 21,000 people about 50 km (30 miles) from London. No, it’s not “ɡɒˈdælmɪŋ”, it’s ˈɡɒdl̩mɪŋ. How can you be a Londoner, a professional newsreader, and not know that? Must be one of those people who never venture south of the river.


  1. When I was in high-school drama class in Arizona, our enunciation exercise was "red leather yellow leather".

  2. Wow, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry takes me back to the good old days of goth. Fellow RLYL fans tended to call them "Ver Lorries" to avoid such tonguetwisting.

  3. I was thinking only yesterday that a nice phrase for most efl learners would be 'vulnerable squirrels'.

  4. Yes, it would be so much easier if you would just start saying truck like us.

  5. As for "red lorry, yellow lorry,"
    John wrote "If native speakers find it tricky, think of what the Japanese would make of it."

    Many Japanese will not find it difficult, because
    they may use a kind of flap r for both r and l!

    I would rather test the articulability differences between the clear l and dark l or
    between British type of r and American type of r
    using the above tongue twister.

  6. 'Red lolly, yellow lorry' is even more fiendish.

  7. I think I've seen the name in passing (and now I'm wondering where ...), for I remember being stumped as to the pronunciation.

    Let me just test something:
    "“ɡɒˈdælmɪŋ”, it’s ˈɡɒdl̩mɪŋ."

    For some reason ɒ and ɒ look completely different in my font ...

  8. Why is the /d/ syllabic, rather than the lateral? Does it syllabify as [ɡɒ.dl.mɪŋ], and if so, wouldn't the coronal stop fill the onset?

  9. Anon: the /d/ is not syllabic, the /l/ is. Perhaps your browser and font are unable to display the syllabicity diacritic properly.
    In my view the syllabification is ˈɡɒd.l.mɪŋ. The /d/ has lateral release.

  10. They obviously have never watched the original Reggie Perrin.

    You do notice when your home town gets mentioned on TV shows :)

  11. On BBC radio London the other day, we were told about traffic problems in Walton (or so I thought), except that I realised he had added Forest to the name and was talking about Waltham Forest, not Walton on Thames.

  12. The English Place-name Society's (1935) volume on the place-names of Essex give's [wɔˑtəmstou] (note silent l) for Walthamstow and [wɔˑltəm] for Waltham Abbey. I had thought these pronunciations obsolete, but it's good to hear that one Radio London announcer is reviving them!

    1. No real reason for a silent L. Maybe that was a typo.

  13. And John's LPD gives ˈwɔːlθ əm stəʊ, previously ˈwɔːlt-, ˈwɒlt-. I wonder if Billy Reeves knows he's reviving an older pronunciation.

  14. I had been in London for several years before I realised that Walthamstow had θ. Maybe one day there'll be a place in East London called Westham ˈwesθəm.

  15. Gosh, that's hard. Probably one of the hardest tongue twisters from me, after Italian Li vuoi quei kiwi? /liˌvwɔi.kweiˈki.wi/ "Do you want those kiwifruits?"

  16. I must admit I didn't know how to pronounce Godalming either. But if I were a newsreader, I might think it a good idea to look the word up!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.