As everyone who has actually tried come blag a vocab test will certainly know, words yes, really don’t have any logic to them. Girlfriend can’t simply “work out” what the German word because that “fridge” is. It is because, that course, words space arbitrary. Cat (or katze or chat) only way “cat” since at some phase people concerned agree that it did. Words may share roots and flit throughout language barriers, but because there’s such a vast number of sounds a human have the right to make, it’s very unlikely the we’d all spontaneously come up with the very same word for the same thing.

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Except that, apparently, we have. That word is “huh”. According to a recent study it seems to it is in pretty universal. The scientists (in what sound like an excellent idea because that a research study trip), videotaped bits of informal language from 5 continents, and also of the 31 dialect they compiled, all had actually this same word in common.

My an initial thought in analysis their findings to be “hmmm”. Is “huh” even a word? the seems more like an instinctive utterance – the type of sound us make once confused. Noises of surprised or anger could be the very same everywhere, yet that’s because they room not really component of a language. They’re simply noises.


But the researchers perform a fairly good job of suggesting that “huh” is, in fact, a word. It’s not involuntary, and also it complies with the rule of a provided language: if questions are posed with increasing intonation, “huh” rises too, and vice versa (it dropped in 2 of the dialects). It is also feasible for children and also language learner to gain “huh” wrong by utilizing it the end of context. Girlfriend can’t get noises of astonishment wrong.

So why is “huh” everywhere? Here’s whereby the research gets interesting. “Huh”, the scientists suggest, is the only word that have the right to do that particular job. This way you could, technically, work-related the word the end in a vocab test. And if kids were yes, really thorough inventors of made up languages, they’d have to include “huh”. 


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It happens that at certain points in a conversation we need a indigenous that deserve to do a large number of points all at once. The must: 1) say over there is a problem, 2) signal that the trouble has to execute with a lack of knowledge, and 3) ask for a response, without being sure what that solution might be. However there is also pressure on words to be as short as possible: it is a mediate signal, for this reason it have to not disturb the rhythms the the language as well much. And also so we obtained “huh”: the can be fried low initiative word (to make it you only require a small constriction the the vocal street at that narrowest point), but capable of to express as lot bafflement together you deserve to put right into it.

You could say that eco-friendly forces squeezed this word into shape. We view this take place in biologic – sharks and also dolphins, under the same constraints, individually developed similar body shapes – yet rarely in language. In fact, this is the first clear case of together powers in ~ work. 

But the strikes me there is a brand-new wave of solid and the same pressures top top words across the world. Together dialects space squeezed right into 140 characters, and thousands struggle to come up with the perfect tweet that the moment, (instantly profitable those that do) there is language mutation choose no other. And across cultures us all tweet the same means – Twitter’s mood swings are the among the many predictable phenomenons out there.

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Thousands of years of language use developed a solitary universal word. My guess is the next one will emerge on Twitter.