Tonguetwister Tuesday !
Cinq cents saints sans sang sont sains sans soin.
saa sah saa sah sah saw saa sah SWAA. Click below to hear this pronounced slowly, then fast!
Five hundred saints without blood are healthy without care.
Well, you weren’t expecting sense from a tonguetwister, were you? This one is not much more than a reminder of the many ways to spell the nasal vowel sounds that I represent here as /ah/ and /aa/, and help you differentiate their pronunciation.
First of all, remember that when you pronounce a nasal vowel, you need to raise the back of your tongue your uvula (the dangly thing in the back of your throat) and soft palate. That blocks the air from floating out of your mouth and forces it out of your nose. If you have trouble imagining this movement, try saying “ah” for the doctor. Feel how your tongue flattens and goes down? Now that you can notice and feel that part of your tongue, do the opposite.
Another way to get the feeling is to notice what your tongue does when you take a sip of something you can’t stand the taste of . You gag, right? That’s your tongue lifting at the back of your mouth to prevent yourself from swallowing. When you close off swallowing, you also close off the air. When you are speaking French, it’s probably a good idea to omit the horrible face.
Okay! Now to sort the spellings in this tonguetwister according to vowel sound:
/aa/ = in (cinq, soin), ain (saints, sains)
/ah/ = en (cents), an (sans, sang)
/aw/ = on (sont)
Just a reminder: There will always be an n (or an m) to tip you off to the nasal vowel, but it is never pronounced like an m or an n. It might as well be an accent over the vowel, or a little flag that waves at you whenever you reach that sound in your reading. And then–check it out in the tonguetwister above–you can line up a whole row of consonants after the n/m, and they will never be pronounced unless they begin a new syllable or are followed by a silent e.
So…the mystery of the saints, above, will remain unexplained, but I hope this unlocks a few of the mysteries of French spelling and pronunciation!