Guess that language

March 31, 2011, [MD]

I love languages, and linguistic games. I love learning new languages, seeing connections between different languages, because they are in the same language family, or because words were imported for different reasons (religion, trade, etc). For example, there are lots of cognates between Indonesian and Hindi, some come from Sanskrit and were brought into Indonesian during the pre-Islamic period, when India had a huge impact on Indonesia. Other words are from Arabic, and were brought in through Islam - and came to Hindi through Urdu. Utterly fascinating.

Before I started studying Hindi, I had watched lot's of Hindi films, and I often tried to figure out some of the words just by reading the subtitles and seeing what they were saying. Trying to isolate nouns or verbs, and testing the theories when they would use the same words in new sentences. I also love being able to recognize scripts or sounds of languages I don't even speak. Most people can recognize Chinese, Japanese (although not everyone can separate the two), Russian, and Korean. But can you recognize Hindi (as opposed to Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati), Tamil, Georgian, Ethiopian and Mongolian?

When I taught English in China, I used to play music from lot's of different languages on my DiscMan (before MP3 players), and have them guess which language it was in. I also played this game with my friend, we would play clips from different BBC World Service broadcasts, and have the other guess which language it was. For languages that you have never heard, you might still be able to guess the region or the family, based on the melody, the sounds, certain words you recognize, etc.

I just came across a game that let's you do just that. It plays a sentence from the Declaration of Human Rights, 30 times, in 30 different languages, and asks you to guess. The quality of the sound is not the best at times, but it works well. I got 21 on my first play through, and 25 when I was able to go back and re-listen to a few clips (there is a time limit for doing this). When I revealed the answers, I saw three more languages that I could have been expected to guess, and two that I've never really heard, and would not have been able to guess.

How well can you do?

Update: Here's one with written sentences. I got 29/36.

Stian (Thanks to anjči @ Flickr for the illustration)

Stian Håklev March 31, 2011 Toronto, Canada
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