- Interesting to Know
- Languages with Unusual Records
We all tend to think that our native language is the most beautiful, the most comprehensive, the most flexible, and so on. That’s mostly due to our patriotic feelings. Some serious scientific research in linguistics has nothing to do with it. But there are languages with undeniable and very unusual record-breaking features you simply can’t ignore.
1. Time Records
Light Warlpiri: the newest language
We often hear how some of the world’s languages disappear or become obsolete as nobody speaks them anymore. In turn, the new languages continue to emerge and develop. The most recently discovered language is Light Warlpiri. It’s spoken by the people of a small desert community found in Australia and is a great example of a mixed language type. Its roots probably go back to 1980’s when aborigines in Lajamanu village started forming their own language using the Warlpiri dialect and English-based creole.
The most interesting part is that this language was invented by children. The professor of linguistics, Carmel O’Shannessy, believes that Light Warlpiri developed from the bilingual manner of communication children were using back then. Although the language is rather similar to Warlpiri, English, and Kriol, it has some unique grammar structures.
Icelandic: the language that hasn’t changed
As our culture and the way of life change with the course of time, so does the language we speak. We come up with new words to describe the phenomena around us and stop using the words that are no longer necessary in our everyday life. That’s why it becomes more and more difficult to effortlessly understand the Old English or Old French. Luckily for the Icelanders, their language almost hasn’t changed since the ancient times. The explanation to this fact is the cultural traditions. People of Iceland value their heritage and still are interested in the literary works written ages ago.
Basque: the language with no relatives
You are probably aware that there are different language families. If we look at a map, there will be several languages from one family placed nearby. Basque is an exception to that rule. It is considered to be an absolute isolate. The brightest minds can’t relate it to any of the existing language family. The homeland of Basque is the border between France and Spain. Though it is surrounded by Indo-European languages, like Spanish, it has nothing to do with them.
2. Quantity Records
Sranan Tongo: the lowest number of words
Expressing your thoughts becomes much easier if your vocabulary is not limited by just a few words. However, people from the Republic of Suriname would strongly disagree with this statement. The regional language they speak counts only around 4 thousand words which is significantly less than any other officially registered language. It’s called Sranan Tongo (Taki Taki) and is spoken by 500, 000 people.
But how do they describe the reality of the 21st century then? Naturally, there was no word for electricity back in the day, so the Icelanders had to invent it. The most peculiar thing is that they didn’t borrow the word from any other language but created a brand new one – rafmagn (translated as “the power of amber”).
Piraha: the only language that has no numerals
This language has no words for numerals and is spoken by around 300 people in Brazil. There’s no possibility for you to express the exact number of something. You can say that you have a lot of it or not so a lot of it. It’s probably the worst language for the economists and the best one for politicians.
Rotokas: the lowest number of letters in the alphabet
This language does not have a lot of speakers. Only around four thousand people living on the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. With only 12 letters, these people manage to get their messages across and communicate in a comprehensive manner. The letters are A E G I K O P R S T U V.
Sedang: the most vocalic language
In case the vowel sounds outnumber the consonant sounds, the language is considered to be a vocalic one. Sedang is famous for its 55 vowel phonations. Unfortunately, you can’t enjoy the tunefulness of this language as the combinations of several vowels in a row is not common for Sedang. The bigger part of the words are rather short. For example, there is a great word mloap which means “to secretly eat your food”.
Bantu: the languages with the greatest number of verb tenses
How many verb tenses does one need to describe what happened to him in the past? You might think that three is more than enough. And yet some of the African languages have six past tenses to describe the events that took place yesterday, not so long ago, last week, and a long time ago. There are around 250 Bantu languages each with its own peculiarities in terms of verb tenses. It’s fair to say that learning even one of them will be very difficult.
3. Melodic Records
Yukaghir: the only language where the intonation is of no use
In English, we often use the tone of voice to verbally express ourselves. In the Yukaghir language, you can’t do it. You need to change the structure of a sentence for your dialogue partner to be able to understand you. The speaker has to underline the necessary word using its appropriate form.
So, for instance, even such a simple phrase as “I love you” can sound in many different ways depending on what word you want to emphasize. You can underline that it’s you who loves that other person, or that you love that particular person but not someone else, or it’s love you’re feeling but not any other kind of emotion.
Silbo: the whistling language
Now, some of you may say that whistling is far away from being an actual language used for communication purposes. But the people living on one of the minor Canary Islands – La Gomera – would disagree. The island consists of deep and narrow valleys which makes it the perfect place for starting a whistling language – Silbo. It may sound impossible, but this mean of communication can sometimes reach several kilometers. It is not surprising that the name “Silbo” comes from “silbar”, Spanish for “to whistle”.
One more evidence for this communication method to get the name of a language is the recent research results. The “speakers” of this language process the whistling sounds with the same areas of a brain that they use for spoken languages. One more interesting fact is that Silbo got the honor to be declared a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO in 2009.
Chamicuro: the language with the lowest number of speakers
As astonishing as it sounds, this language has only 8 native speakers. They all live in Peru and the total number of Chamicuro people equals to approximately 20. The reason for that is that the younger generation speaks only Spanish. There might be also other languages with the similar number of native speakers we don’t know about yet but this is the perfect example of the languages that are about to extinct.