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English is without doubt one of the world’s “weirdest” languages, say linguists — Quartz

Is English a “bizarre” language? Many people may really feel that is true after we’re making an attempt to elucidate its advanced spelling guidelines, or the meanings of idioms resembling “it’s raining cats and canines” to somebody who’s studying it. Instructing or studying any language is, nevertheless, by no means a straightforward activity.However what’s a “bizarre” language anyway? I’m a linguist and we typically purpose to be as goal as doable within the examine of human language. We view ourselves as language scientists who make hypotheses about how people use language and take a look at them in opposition to linguistic knowledge. In contrast to so-called “language police,” we imagine it is very important keep away from the place doable making worth judgements about language.Some computational linguists have, nevertheless, used knowledge within the World Atlas of Language Buildings (WALS) to discover which languages is perhaps thought of the “weirdest.” This was not only a worth judgement: they systematically in contrast the knowledge within the WALS web site for 239 languages from totally different components of the world. Their purpose was to search out out which languages had the most important variety of options that differed most from different languages. On this survey, English got here in 33rd place out of 239 languages. So it was undoubtedly “weirder” than over 80% of the opposite languages within the survey. Critics although have claimed the survey indulged in cherry-picking just a few options of the world’s many languages. Certainly, there are options of English that aren’t “bizarre” in comparison with many different languages, resembling its fundamental subject-verb-object phrase order. However let’s look right here at two options of English which may in truth be uncommon. English sounds strangeEnglish most likely sounds slightly “bizarre” to many audio system of different languages. In keeping with the WALS, the common variety of distinctive speech sounds on the earth’s languages is about 25-30—often known as “phonemes.” Pirahã, an indigenous language spoken within the Amazon area of Brazil, has an unusually small set of phonemes. It has eight consonants, and simply three vowels: /i/, /a/, and /o/. In distinction, Taa—also called !Xóõ) is a language in southern Africa which has greater than 100 phonemes, together with many several types of click on sounds. Signal languages, resembling British Signal Language or American Signal Language, don’t use sounds in any respect. Indicators are, as an alternative, composed out of combos of handshapes, actions of the arms, and areas on or close to the physique of the signer. English has extra phonemes than many languages, with round 44, relying on which number of English you converse. It has an unusually giant set of vowel sounds—there are round 11. In keeping with WALS, most spoken languages solely have between 5 to 6 vowel sounds. That is a part of the rationale that English spelling is fiendishly difficult, as a result of it has inherited 5 letters for vowels from the Roman alphabet and audio system must make them work for greater than twice that variety of sounds.English has some comparatively uncommon consonant sounds as effectively. Two sounds, these represented by the “th” in “bathtub” and “bathe” respectively, are present in fewer than 10% of the languages surveyed in WALS. In reality, these two sounds are typically among the many final sounds acquired by kids, with some grownup types of English not utilizing them in any respect. The query of questionsEnglish grammar can be “bizarre.” English makes use of various phrase orders to tell apart between questions and statements—that means that the topic of the sentence precedes the verb in statements. Take the phrase “life is a field of goodies” for instance. Right here, the order is topic (“life”) adopted by the verb (“is”). Within the query, “is life a field of goodies?,” the order of those parts is reversed. In a WALS survey of 955 languages, fewer than 2% of languages within the pattern used English-like variations in sentence construction for questions. Over 50% of the languages added a query particle to distinguish a query from a press release. In Japanese, for instance, you add the query particle “ka” to a press release to show it right into a query. The second commonest technique in WALS was to vary the intonation sample, resembling altering a falling intonation sample (for a press release) to a rising one (for a query). In distinction, Mixtec (an indigenous language of Mexico) is a extremely atypical language as a result of it doesn’t use any grammatical technique to tell apart between questions and statements. That mentioned, it’s not possible to conclusively make the argument that English is, or isn’t, “bizarre” as a result of all the information wanted to make this judgement just isn’t obtainable. As a number of thousand languages haven’t but been included in WALS, this implies WALS can solely be used to check English with a small proportion of the estimated 7000 languages on the earth right now. So extra language documentation is finally wanted to provide a greater understanding of the world’s superb linguistic variety.This text is republished from The Dialog beneath a Inventive Commons license. Learn the unique article.