La roue sur la rue roule; la rue sous la roue reste.

Tonguetwister Tuesday!

La roue sur la rue roule; la rue sous la roue reste.

lah roo sewr lah rew ROOL; lah rew soo lah roo REST. Click below to hear this pronounced!  

The wheel rolls on the road; the road stays under the wheel.

Oh, my. This tonguetwister is attributed to one Pierre Abbat (further identity unknown), who must surely have had a sadistic turn of mind. If you pronounce this one wrong, you will end up with the road rolling on the wheel, and/or the wheel staying under the road!

The alternation of /ew/ and /oo/ sounds is already difficult, calling for a drastic change of your tongue’s position in your mouth. This is further complicated by that lovely French /r/, which, if you pronounce it in the back of your throat, calls for yet another change of position for your tongue.

I’ll bet you never knew how important that tongue is! You can read about the /r/ in this post from March 2010; what I said there also holds true for this tonguetwister.

Have I talked about the /ew – oo/ contrast? It’s tricky, and learners often have trouble with it. So, forthwith, a couple of frightening closeups that show you the correct mouth positions.

/oo/ (spelling: ou)

This is the sound /oo/. Notice the long jaw and the pursed lips. Your jaw should be wide open, making a large resonating chamber inside your mouth. (Think about stringed instruments: the larger the box, the lower the sound.) When you purse your lips, that closes off the resonating chamber and shapes the sound. Where is your tongue? Its tip is pulled towards the back of your mouth, further enlarging the space the sound has to rattle around in. You can sort of flatten its edges against your upper back teeth.  

/ew/ (spelling: u)

Here’s the sound /ew/. See that pout? Stick out your lower lip, and pull the corners of your mouth tightly to each side. Your face should feel taut all over, from below your chin (put your fingers under your chin, behind your chin bone; you should feel your muscles tighten as you pronounce this sound), to the muscles between your lower lip and your chin, to the corners of your mouth. And your tongue? With its tip curled strongly upwards, pointing to the ridge behind your upper teeth. Its edges should be flattened against your teeth on either side; because your mouth is nearly closed, you will feel your tongue against both upper and lower teeth. And, as you may have guessed, you are now making a very tiny resonating chamber, the smallest possible, because this is a very high-frequency sound. For those who speak German, note that this is the same sound as ü.

And yes, you will get wrinkles around your mouth if you speak French correctly for long enough. It takes a lot of exercise! French is a very active language. But don’t worry: Some of those lines are the same ones you’ll get if you smile a lot, and that is never a bad thing.

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