Chinese tongue twister

The informant is Chinese American who was born and raised in California. He can speak Chinese, but he is not very fluent. At home, he speaks English to his parents, whom replies back to him in Chinese. He is a business student at USC.

Tongue twister: 吃葡萄不吐葡萄皮,不吃葡萄倒吐葡萄皮 (chi putao bu tu putao pi, bu chi putao dao tu putao pi)

Informant:  “The literal translation of this tongue twister is “eat grapes but not spit out the skin, not eat grapes but spit out the skin.” It doesn’t have any meanings. It’s just made for tongue twister purposes. When I was young my mom told me it, and then she had me say it. I think she taught me this tongue twister as part of language development.”

“Some of my Chinese American friends also know this, because it’s something that they teach in Chinese schools here. I went to a Chinese kindergarten, because my mom wanted me to speak Chinese fluently. I learned this tongue twister again at that kindergarten. I think it definitely helped me improve Chinese. Chinese have several different tones, and saying those tones differently may make the sentence mean something totally different. So practicing the tones and exact pronunciations is an important part of learning Chinese, and tongue twisters definitely help me practice tones and pronunciations.”

Tongue twisters exist in many different language groups. Like the example given by the informant, many tongue twisters do not have meanings. It’s solely made for language development. No one knows who made it, but the tongue twisters definitely help people to improve their pronunciation. Tongue twisters may differ by regions. In China, the difference is larger than any other countries, because there exists so many types of language groups in China.