Do All Languages Have an Equivalent Word for “Huh”?

Even if you don't speak any foreign languages, there's a good chance you already know at least one word that you can use no matter where you go: "Huh?" That's right, the seemingly nonsensical word you use to indicate that you don't understand something is basically the same sound made by people all over the world for the same reason. According to research conducted by a group from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, the word "huh" should be seen as a remarkable linguistic invention and the first "universal word" to be studied by today's linguists. After analyzing the speech of people speaking in languages ranging from French and Spanish to the indigenous vocabulary found in Ecuador and Ghana, the researchers found that all of them used a sound very similar to "huh" to indicate a lack of understanding. Lead researcher Mark Dingemanse said the explanation for such widespread use of a word can be traced to convergent evolution. In other words, it emerges independently in different languages because it so perfectly fits its function. He compares this to the physical evolution of sharks and dolphins, which "arrived at the same body plan not because they share certain genes, but because they share an environment.”

A look at language:

  • Most of the world is bilingual, but the majority of people in America and the United Kingdom speak only English.
  • Twins tend to create a language that only the two of them can understand; the phenomenon is known as cryptophasia.
  • Unsurprisingly, the book that has been translated into the most languages is the Bible. Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio, originally written in Italian, is commonly considered the second-most translated, with versions in over 300 languages.
More Info: Smithsonian magazine

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