You Already Know One Word in Every Language on Earth


Via Los Angeles Times.

Humans speak many languages, but we may be united in our confusion. A new study examined languages from around the world and discovered what they say could be a universal word: “Huh?”

Researchers traveled to cities and remote villages on five continents, visiting native speakers of 10 very different languages. Their nearly 200 recordings of casual conversations revealed that there are versions of “Huh?” in every language they studied — and they sound remarkably similar.

While it may seem like a throwaway word, “Huh?” is the glue that holds a broken conversation together, the globe-trotting team reported Friday in the journal PLOS ONE. The fact that it appears over and over reveals a remarkable case of “convergent evolution” in language, they added.

“Huh?” is a much-maligned utterance in English. It’s seen as a filler word, little more than what’s called a “conversational grunt,” like mm-hmm. But it plays a crucial role in conversations, said Herbert Clark, a psychologist at Stanford University who studies language.

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16 Comments on "You Already Know One Word in Every Language on Earth"

  1. Simon Valentine | Nov 9, 2013 at 9:37 pm |

    eesh, convergent evolution? so far distancing themselves from the somatics of things ‘un’explained, i see species people and propose that species be defined in such a manner as [concerts Klaatu ordering] rather than e.g. “x can reproduce with y and the resulting z can reproduce with…” & “x can reproduce x …” & …

    “You’re a distant-world alien looking to catalog a planet [e.g. ‘earth’] – what have thee, Klaatu?” humans art of polynomial nomenclature? or non polynomial?

    science, why you no math?

  2. Canadians say eh instead of huh, eh? It don’t sound the same there bud.

    • Punctuated Colon | Nov 10, 2013 at 8:09 am |

      do they not say both? the Canadians i am friendly with do.

    • Jin The Ninja | Nov 10, 2013 at 1:41 pm |

      the demographics of ‘eh’ are small. in quebec french there is an approximating ‘eh?’ but how many american anglophones know that? ‘eh’ is very regional, very rural, highly uncommon in the cities- in fact i’ve never heard it (here) outside of a beer commercial.

  3. Rhoid Rager | Nov 10, 2013 at 2:51 am |

    I can attest that ‘huh’ exists in Japanese. But it sounds more like ‘ha?’ はっ?

  4. Simon Selvfed | Nov 10, 2013 at 3:10 am |

    In Danish it’s “Hvad” or “Hva'” meaning ‘what’. There’s no ‘huh’ here…

    • Calypso_1 | Nov 10, 2013 at 3:23 pm |

      So absolutely unequivalent to the English clipping of ‘what’ to ‘wha/whu’ used interchangeably with ‘huh’?

      • Simon Selvfed | Nov 10, 2013 at 4:43 pm |

        I’m sure that is sound logic if you don’t know Danish, but the ‘huh’ word has no resemblance to anything in the Danish language. Yes of course our reasonto saying ‘what’ is the same. We use the same word in a sense, but the link is the word what, not huh. There’s a big difference.

        • Calypso_1 | Nov 10, 2013 at 8:06 pm |

          Do Danes furl their occipitofrontalis in such vocal interrogatives?

          • Simon Selvfed | Nov 11, 2013 at 7:44 am |

            Danes never furl, it’s a Viking thing.

          • Calypso_1 | Nov 11, 2013 at 6:14 pm |

            Fucking Danes! How do their medulla oblongatas work?

          • Simon Selvfed | Nov 12, 2013 at 5:34 am |

            Like everyone else’s… It takes care of heart rate, breathing and blood pressure while we pillage the coasts of the world. How else would it work?

          • Calypso_1 | Nov 12, 2013 at 6:41 am |

            In making an interrogative expression the motor nerve nucleus of CN V will raise the brow while CN IX & XII cause a drop in the hyoid allowing for the aspirated vowel ha/hu sound regardless of front/back tongue placement or labial frictive.

          • Simon Selvfed | Nov 12, 2013 at 11:12 am |

            Danes do not make interrogative expressions… It would be considered weak. We also do not apologize, cry or die outside of battle.

  5. Jonas Planck | Nov 10, 2013 at 3:12 am |

    That was the first word my baby spoke! “huh!” …followed by “HUUUAAAUUH!” I think it might have something to with the fact it’s the default noise that humans make with their vocal cords when they aren’t trying to form consonants or vowels. As an example, If you suddenly punch someone in the stomach unexpectedly, they’ll usually say that word. And then they’ll hit you back, depending on their cultural background.

  6. kowalityjesus | Nov 11, 2013 at 5:05 am |

    men invented language, but God invented “huh”

Comments are closed.