Sopra la panca la capra campa, sotto la panca la capra crepa*! There, that’s a scioglilingua.
Scioglilingua is a bit of pronunciation conundrum in itself, as it’s not that simple to pronounce, either: it comes from the word sciogliere — to melt, but also to free or disentangle — and, of course, lingua — tongue.
It appeared in our beautiful language for the first time in 1887. In English, we call it “tongue twister” and the sense remains pretty much the same. A scioglilingua is a sentence filled with alliterations and assonances (in short, the regular repetition of consonants or vowels within a word, a sentence or a verse to create the illusion of a specific sound) that makes its pronunciation very hard. They are very popular among children, who often use them to taunt each other about how good they are at repeating them out loud. It is often used as an exercise for people who have language problems, or just to get us to say words correctly.
But the real magic of scioglilingua is their meaning, because some of them are funny and quirky indeed: we have thirty three people from Trento entering the city trotting along (trentatre Trentini entrano in Trento trotterellando), the above mentioned goat, and Apelle, the son of Apollo, who made a chicken skin ball, and all the fish came afloat to see the chicken skin ball made by Apelle, son of Apollo (Apelle, figlio di Apollo, fece una palla di pelle di pollo. Tutti i pesci vennero a galla per vedere la palla di pelle di pollo fatta da Apelle, figlio di Apollo).
And no, Apollo had no son called Apelle: that’s pure poetic license.
Scioglingua are as old as Italian itself and you know what? They can be great party tricks. Master one of them and propose it around the next time you have dinner with your Italian mates: the competition is bound to get fierce.
Da piccolo recitavo scioglilingua per imparare a pronunciare le parole.
I used to use tongue twisters as a child to learn how to say words.
Quel tipo ha un nome difficilissimo: sembra uno scioglilingua.
That man has a very hard name to say: it sounds like a tongue twister.
Chi dice questo scioglilingua senza sbagliare vince la scommessa!
Who says this tongue twister right, wins the bet!
*(on the bench the goat lives, under the bench the goat dies, for those of you interested in what it means!)