50 votes
Accepted

What is the longest word without a vowel in any language?

The question could be interpreted as being about "vowel letters". "Twyndyllyngs" is a candidate: said to come from Welsh. If we take "vowels" to be the letters [ieaou], ...
  • 70k
20 votes
Accepted

Reversal of kinship terms when speaking to a child

Is there a name for this phenomenon? There are several in fact, but there doesn't seem to be a single unified term, which is quite a problem because it makes looking it up a real pain in the neck. ...
17 votes

Can Hangul be read as fast as Chinese?

"Reading" means a number of different things, a problem that needs to be be addressed before questions of Hangul vs. English can be addressed. At the most basic level, it refers to the ...
  • 70k
17 votes

What makes East-Asian languages sound different than European languages?

Asian languages don't "sound alike" and don't "sound different" from European languages, because languages of Asia include Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Armenian, Indian languages, and ...
  • 70k
14 votes

What is the longest word without a vowel in any language?

There's a word (a sentence actually) in the Canadian language Bella Coola (aka Nuxalk) that only consists of obstruents (no vowels at all) and is longer than the Czech word you mentioned in the ...
  • 1,379
13 votes

Are There Ancient Greek Words Descended From Sumerian?

Yes, a few: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:Ancient_Greek_terms_derived_from_Sumerian They were mostly borrowed via Akkadian, and into other major classical languages of the Eastern ...
12 votes

Non-African Click Languages

Not even African languages in general: clicks seem to have originated only in the Khoisan language "family" (*), and spread from there into neighboring languages. In other words, clicks don't seem to ...
  • 53.9k
11 votes

How did 'cocodrilo' originate from 'crocodile'?

This is an example of metathesis, the rearranging of sounds or syllables in a word. It occurred in a number of words in the evolution from Latin to Spanish: Latin parabola > Old Spanish parabla > ...
  • 3,024
11 votes
Accepted

Relation between Hebrew 'סמפוניה' and English 'Symphony'

They both come from Greek συμφωνία.This was used in ancient and mediaeval times as a name for various musical instruments, including a type of drum.
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10 votes

What languages use numbers to name the week days and months?

Portuguese uses ordinal numbers to number five of the seven days of the week. Feira coincides with the term for fair, not the fair of fairy tales, but the fair that is an open-air market. But this is ...
  • 4,298
10 votes
Accepted

What languages use numbers to name the week days and months?

The seven-day week is first attested in about the first century BC, in two different forms: the planetary week (where each day is associated with one of the seven visible planets) and the numbered ...
  • 22.8k
10 votes
Accepted

Offensive words over time in other languages

This is indeed a cross-linguistic phenomenon! Stephen Pinker named it the "Euphemism Treadmill" in his book The Blank Slate; the more general linguistic term is "pejoration", when a certain word or ...
  • 53.9k
9 votes
Accepted

Is there a tendency to name money after other things?

Although anecdotally the answer to the question is a confident "yes", there is a big complication: the many concepts of economic value that are bundled into the Western European concept of "money". ...
  • 5,553
9 votes
Accepted

How do we know for sure a transliteration is lossless?

A transliteration system is usually either designed to be lossless, or not. To know whether it is or not, you have to know the target language. Lossless transliteration systems generally have to use ...
  • 53.9k
8 votes

Animal sounds across languages

Onomatopoeia is non-arbitrary, but that doesn't mean it's immune to the normal processes that happen to any arbitrary word—including: arbitrary historical choices of onomatopoeia (like @acattle ...
8 votes

Why do many languages tend to use plural forms to impart formality or deference?

As always, 'why' questions are a really bad idea in linguistics. You can reasonably ask these three types of questions: Historical developments within a language Areal / contact impact between ...
8 votes

How is chapter related to head?

We can't know exactly which quality led so many languages to independently develop or borrow the metaphor — etymological dictionaries rarely speculate on the "why" — but here are my thoughts. There ...
  • 2,199
8 votes
Accepted

When/how did "articles" like "the" first appear in language?

At least three ancient Semitic languages (Sabaic, Arabic, Old Akkadian) use suffixes like -n and -m to mark indefinite nouns, though the details differ from language to language. In the case of ...
  • 22.8k
8 votes

Could Cimmerian be a transitional language between Iranian and Slavic?

With only three personal names surviving our knowledge of the Cimmerian language is extremely limited. And even for that three names it is unclear how to read them, different readings have been ...
7 votes

Are the Finnish pronouns related to their Indo-European counterparts?

The similarity of Finnish hän and Scandinavian hann / English he / etc. is coincidental, or a case of later convergence. Germanic *h goes back to earlier *k (thus hann / he / etc. may be related to ...
  • 1,347
7 votes

Why do so many languages have a phase like "so-so"?

Is there a common origin? No. Is there some theory to explain this? I propose one: common need. In Is “Huh?” a Universal Word? Conversational Infrastructure and the Convergent Evolution of ...
7 votes
Accepted

Do valid sentences of phrases that have different meanings in different languages exist? How are they called?

There doesn't seem to be an accepted name for this type of bilingual punning. "Bilingual sentence" might seem appropriate, but it would ambiguously describe both the phenomenon of sentences that ...
  • 1,003
7 votes

Reversal of kinship terms when speaking to a child

I wondered about this and answered my own question on the German StackExchange. The phenomenon exists in German dialects, but not Standard German (with the possible exception of Pate; see below). I ...
7 votes
Accepted

Non-African Click Languages

This is an example of areal phonetics, where certain phonetic properties are relatively widely exploited in one area, but is rare (or nonexistent) elsewhere. Another example is labiovelars such as [kp]...
  • 70k
7 votes

Are there any languages where you say "My age is x years"?

Indonesian has two main ways of telling age, both use the Arabic borrowing umur “age”, from Arabic عُمْر‎ (ʿumr) “lifespan, age”. In order to say “Ali is 20 years old”, the first way is to use umur ...
  • 16.4k
6 votes

The relationship between "orange" the colour and "orange" the fruit

Alain Pannetier answers this pretty comprehensively, but there are some other notable exceptions where the word for the colour "orange" is cognate to neither orange, Portugal, nor appelsien: Other ...
  • 3,024
6 votes

Does English language stand special in terms of phonology?

I am a Japanese student who learns both English and Russian, so I can compare both languages as a "neutral" person, and I think the root cause of your problem is that the mechanics of English speech ...
  • 381
6 votes

Is there a language without words which correspond to the concepts 'I', 'They', 'We'

In many languages the pronouns for the 3rd person singular and plural are, at least etymologically, demonstrative pronouns. Most languages have personal pronouns in the 1st and 2nd person singular and ...
  • 22.8k
6 votes
Accepted

How many languages are there which use the Arabic Script, besides Arabic?

SIL has lists of two varieties of Arabic script and languages that use them: mostly here, some here. This give about 250 languages, subject to the usual language-inflation that they engage in, and ...
  • 70k
6 votes
Accepted

How is chapter related to head?

It's useful in linguistics to distinguish between the 'why' and the 'how'. The 'why' question is easy in the case of European languages because we know that in this part of the world, books and ...

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