Sumomomomomomomomo

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That's the name of a three-year-old filly who had a maiden win at a Tokyo racecourse on November 1, 2021, as described in "Japanese Tongue Twisters", by Richard Medhurst, nippon.com (Nov 17, 2021).

The horse takes her name from the following Japanese tongue twister: Sumomo mo momo mo momo no uchi (スモモも、モモも、モモのうち), meaning “Both sumomo and peaches are kinds of peaches.”

A sumomo is a kind of plum (Prunus salicina), sometimes called the “Japanese plum,” although not to be confused with the famous ume. Botanically, it cannot really said to be a kind of peach (momo), which is only a close relation (Prunus persica). Still, the linguistic connection might be enough; at the word level, at least, we could say a sumomo is a kind of momo.

Another popular repetitious tongue twister features pairs of chickens in the front and back gardens. The translation below highlights the structure of the Japanese, and so is a little unnatural.

Uraniwa ni wa niwa, niwa ni wa niwa niwatori ga iru. (裏庭には二羽、庭には二羽鶏がいる)

In the back yard, there are two, and in the front yard, there are two chickens.

This plays on the different meanings of niwa. One is “garden,” also forming part of “back yard” (uraniwa). As wa is a counter word for birds, niwa can indicate “two [birds],” and the two syllables are found again in niwatori, or “chickens.”

There is no need for repetition to make a tongue twister. Here are a few further examples.

Nama mugi, nama-gome, nama tamago
Uncooked wheat, uncooked rice, uncooked egg.

Tonari no kyaku wa yoku kaki kuu kyaku da
The nextdoor guest is a guest who eats a lot of persimmons.

Basu gasu bakuhatsu
A bus gas explosion.

Tōkyō tokkyo kyoka kyoku
The Tokyo Patent Approval Office.

Note that the administrative office in the final example is purely fictional!

….

I find it uncannily easy to pronounce most of these Japanese tongue twisters, easier than it is for me to pronounce most English tongue twisters.  I suspect that it must be because of the simplicity and transparency of Japanese syllables, with few vowel gradations and absence of complicated consonant clusters.  Harder to twist your tongue in Japanese, easier to do so in English.

BTW, sumo ("rush at each other", a world-famous type of wrestling) has nothing to do with sumomo ("plum; sour peach", so to speak).

 

Selected readings

 

[h.t. Don Keyser]

 



10 Comments »

  1. Frank Chance said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 6:28 pm

    Our mentor in Japanese language Kamikawa Rikuzô used tongue twisters to build up fluency when we were beginning students in Japan. My favorite was "Kanda Kajichô no kado no kambutsuya de katsuobushi wo katte katakute kamenaide kaeshite kaerô." "At a dry goods store (kambutsuya) on a corner (kado) in Kanda Kajichô (place name in Tokyo) [I] bought dried bonito (katsuobushi) [but] it was so hard (katakute) it could not be chewed (kamenaide)[so i] will return [it] and go home [kaerô]." It isn't so hard to read or pronounce but is hard to recite from memory.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 6:45 pm

    Great one, Frank!!!

  3. Stephen Hart said,

    November 17, 2021 @ 7:28 pm

    Then there's humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reef_triggerfish#Hawaii_state_fish

  4. anon said,

    November 18, 2021 @ 7:52 am

    Another well-known Japanese tongue-twister is the Uirō-uri kabuki scene. It is a long patter monologue performed by a street hawker selling medicinal pills, which as one of their miraculous properties allow the user to pronounce tongue-twisters with great speed and accuracy. Contemporary Japanese actors and announcers still use it to train their elocution and articulation.

    the text of the scene and its history: https://ja.wikisource.org/wiki/%E5%A4%96%E9%83%8E%E5%A3%B2

    an impressive full reading of the scene by an amateur: https://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm18589490

    second half of a performance by Ichikawa Danjūrō XII: https://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm18589490

  5. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    November 18, 2021 @ 7:53 am

    My favorite tonguewister in English/French is simply the rapid-fire repetition of teh word "nachos" I choke off around the third time myself. I am convinced that the "nachosnachosnachosnachosnachosnachosnachosnachos" sequence in Little Big's Tacos is in not humanly pronounceable and achieved via repeating the recording of the single word.

  6. Eric Sadoyama said,

    November 18, 2021 @ 6:34 pm

    Humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa isn’t actually a tongue twister; it’s just long. Try these:

    Nāna i nānā i nā nananana i Nānākuli.
    She’s the one who saw the spiders in Nānākuli.

    Mai ka pōʻēʻē o ka ʻōʻō nā ʻēʻē!
    From the axillary of the ʻōʻō bird comes the yellow feathers!

    Eā, aia i ʻAiea ka ʻai ʻia a ka aeāea e ka iʻa.
    Alas, at ʻAiea the green wrasse was eaten by the fish.

    https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-tongue-twisters-in-the-Hawaiian-language/answer/Sam-Gon-III?ch=15&oid=145423082

  7. Josh R. said,

    November 18, 2021 @ 7:19 pm

    Japanese tongue twisters are relatively easy to say once. The trick is, you have to say them three times fast. Most people get tripped up on the third time around.

  8. David Marjanović said,

    November 19, 2021 @ 7:14 pm

    Wenn hinter Fliegen Fliegen fliegen, fliegen Fliegen Fliegen nach.

    "When, behind flies, flies fly, flies follow flies in flight."

  9. tony prost said,

    November 20, 2021 @ 9:59 am

    Buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo, buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

  10. stephen said,

    November 25, 2021 @ 9:44 pm

    Of course Wikipedia has an article on this particular tongue twister:

    Strč prst skrz krk

    a Czech and Slovak tongue-twister meaning "stick a finger through the throat".

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Str%C4%8D_prst_skrz_krk

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