Hi everybody. I’ve been searching my library of English books to find more interesting concepts in English and I found something I had never heard about before.

Why does a clock make the sound « tick-tock » and not « tock-tick »? And when we have an informal conversation we have a « chit-chat » and not a « chat-chit »? And why do we listen to « hip-hop » and not « hop-hip »? And when the British play table tennis they play « Ping-pong » and not « Pong-ping »?

This is called « Ablaut Reduplication » (don’t worry, this was new to me, too) and is a rule which regulates which vowel comes before another vowel in certain structures. In English, the vowel « I » must come before « A » or « O ».

Why?

It appears that it just sounds better this way for some reason. « I » is a high vowel which is made at the top of the mouth, and « A » and « O » are low vowels which are made nearer the back. This gives the sound from high to low a descending feel which is pleasing to the ear. We can hear this in the sound of a traditional British doorbell’s ding-dong.

 

For another tip-top post please check back next week or come to the Académie for a chit-chat. Please remember not to dilly-dally with booking your next Conversation Club, too!

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