This is pretty cool stuff to keep in mind the next time you're staggering all over the streets of Helsinki, trying to get some uptight cop to give you back your Vodka (that's what everyone's 'summer vacations' are like, right?)
A team of linguists say there is one syllable that is universally recognized throughout the world—'huh?'
According to a paper published in the awesomely not confusing at all journal for smart people, PLOS One*, researchers say the word has striking similarities in many languages across several continents, leading them to theorize 'huh' is a universal word. Via the New York Times:
The study, conducted by Mark Dingemanse, Francisco Torreira and Nick Enfield, closely examined variations of the word — defined as “a simple syllable with a low-front central vowel, glottal onset consonant, if any, and questioning intonation” — in 10 languages, including Dutch, Icelandic, Mandarin Chinese, the West African Siwu and the Australian aboriginal Murrinh-Patha.
The researchers also looked at other words and expressions used to elicit clarification during conversation, a function that linguists refer to as “other-initiated repair.” But only “Huh?,” they write, occurs across languages whose phonetic patterns otherwise vary greatly.
Now, before you go all 'huh? so whuz the big deal?' it is a big deal, OK?
It might seem trivial to carry out research on “Huh?,” which some linguists argue isn’t really a word at all. But the study, Dr. Enfield said, is part of a broader effort to challenge the dominant view that language is primarily a matter of inbor grammatical structure, as Noam Chomsky has argued. Instead, some researchers suggest, language is primarily grounded in social interaction.
“We think of this as the core of language: managing common understanding as we talk,” Dr. Enfield said in an interview. Confirming and checking with other people, he added, “are really fundamental to the use of language.”
Studies have been done on other words such as "mama," "papa," and "um" in the past, but none with results as convincing as "huh." (I am fluent in "Ummmm" by the way}
BRB; gonna cancel all my Rosetta Stone purchases on Amazon and just master the art of saying huh in a lot of really cool ways.
Image via Shutterstock
*Which you can rest assured I have read and analyzed quite thoroughly today and did not blow off to watch an old episode of Golden Girls.