4 World Languages You May Not Have Heard Of
A foreign language—much like a rare plant or an old artifact—represents a richness of our planet and an expression of something unique. Nowadays, there are between 6,000-7,000 spoken languages in the world, although there were hundreds more just a century ago. In the same way biodiversity is important to nature, a foreign language is vital to Earth’s anthropological diversity. I’ve selected four languages that—in my opinion—are not nearly as well known as they should be. These four languages share two distinctive characteristics: they are extremely fascinating and very, very complicated.
!Xóõ (Namibia, Botswana)
The name of this language is no typing error. The exclamation mark symbolizes a sound obtained by clicking the tongue against the palate.
In fact, the real richness of the !Xóõ language is its enormous array of sounds. Estimates vary, but most experts believe !Xóõ has 58 consonants, 31 vowels and 4 tones. As a term of comparison, consider that English has 24 consonants, 12 vowels and no tonal distinctions.
To complicate things further, each of these consonants and vowels can be pronounced in multiple ways. !Xóõ displays a monstrous collection of over 100 sounds. A lesson in !Xóõ would have you longing for your old French pronunciation classes.
What sets !Xóõ apart from other spoken languages is that most of its sounds could be perceived as “noises”, rather than articulated phones that carry a meaning.
If you’re interested in hearing this babel of sounds, listen below. But if you would like to meet the incredible people capable of mastering this intricate language, head to western Botswana or eastern Namibia.
There are many reasons why it’s worth learning Georgian. One reason being that this wonderful, unexplored country is worth a trip, but English won’t get you very far when asking directions to a shepherd in the Caucasus mountains.
But what is it that makes the Georgian language so particular? For one, Georgian has remained virtually unchanged for over 2,000 years. Imagine if the English we spoke today was almost the same as that spoken by the Anglo-Saxons. That would be something!
Georgian can be complicated to learn because of the way its words are structured. It’s quite normal to find 4, 5 or 6 consonant clusters in Georgian. This makes pronunciation nearly impossible for non-native speakers. One particular word even contains 8 consonants in a row: gvprckvnis. But you don’t have to worry – unless you are personifying an apple – since this word translates to “he peels us”.
Another point of interest is that Georgian is an ergative language. I’m not going to bore you with a definition of ergativity, since it’s quite a technical concept. But consider that linguists have reconstructed some of the oldest languages spoken in the Stone Age and concluded that they were ergative. This means Georgian has preserved a linguistic characteristic dating back to the dawn of humanity.
Finally, the Georgian alphabet, known for its elegance and beauty.
This letter in particular – ო – is often used on social media because it looks somewhat like a heart, but its real correspondent in English is “o”.
Not long ago, in the mountains of Northeastern Turkey, a Greek anthropologist discovered a community that spoke a mysterious language: Romeyka.
Romeyka showed striking similarities with ancient Greek, the legendary language spoken by Homer, Plato and the Oracle of Delfi. Romeyka is the only Greek dialect in the world that has stayed true to its ancient roots. All other dialects, including modern Greek itself, have evolved over time due to proximity with other people, cultures, and religions.
So how did Romeyka resist any linguistic contamination? Historians and linguists agree that this community descends directly from the ancient Greeks who colonized the area between the 4th century BC and the 5th century AD. The remoteness of the region and the isolation provided by the mountains created the necessary conditions for preserving this unique language and culture.
Another truly fascinating aspect is that Romeyka coexists, geographically, side-by-side with the Turkish language. Despite the fact that Greece and Turkey are neighbouring countries, the two languages couldn’t be more different. Turkish originates from central Asia and is completely different from any other European language.
If you would like to hear how Jason and the Argonauts used to speak, or if you simply want to see some astonishing alpine landscapes you would never expect to find in Turkey, head for the Pontus.
Ojibway (Canada and the USA)
Although those from North America may be more familiar with this language than others on this list, Ojibway—a First Nations language—is one of the most complex languages in the world.
What makes Objibway outstanding is its potential length of words, which can extend 20-30 letters or more, since there is no limit. This pattern is easily explained. In Ojibway, words are meant to be assembled to form bigger compounds. One single word can contain many other words. For non-native speakers, this can make it difficult to maintain an overview of the word’s content.
Have a look at this: Wgiinoondaagoonwwiidgemaagnan.
This word translates to “his wife heard him”. For non-native speakers, it could be time consuming to recognize the different elements contained in this 29-letter word. A conversation in Ojibway could pose some challenges.
Among Ojibway communities, the title of a “good storyteller” is granted to those who can tell stories by forming the longest possible words. People often gather to listen to the elderly performing this incredible art.
Some of the most unique languages in the world preserve some of our most unique cultures. Learning how to greet people in another language can establish a deeper connection with the place you’re visiting.
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