Five Interesting Languages From Around the World

Ria Mitra

Languages are something that I find endlessly captivating due to the sheer diversity of languages around the world. Every single language that exists holds culture and history within it, shaping the way different communities experience life. Below is a list, in no particular order, of five languages that I personally find truly fascinating. 

SILBO GOMERO

What makes this language, native to La Gomero in the Canary Islands, so interesting is that it consists solely of powerful whistling. The language is an almost direct transferral of Spanish, which is spoken in the rest of the Canary Islands, into a series of whistling sounds. La Gomero is a heavily mountainous place, rife with valleys and ravines that can make communication difficult through ‘normal’ speech. Thus, the inhabitants had to get creative and find communication methods that would enable their voices to be heard by people on the other side of a valley. The resulting language is unique, innovative proof of the impact our surroundings have on our lifestyles.

ESPERANTO

Esperanto is an entirely man-made language meaning it did not develop organically and was designed from scratch by a small group of people. It is categorised as an auxiliary language. Essentially,  it exists to facilitate communication between people who speak different languages. Esperanto was created in the 1880s by a Polish man named L.L. Zamenhof; according to his several books, Esperanto is intended to “reduce the labour we spend in learning foreign tongues” and “unite all nations under a common brotherhood”, by being a universal language which borrows aspects from many already common languages. Esperanto nowadays is used in world travel, correspondence, conventions, and language instruction. There have even been Nobel-prize winning novels written in this completely manufactured language. Esperanto has around 2 million speakers, mostly in Europe and the UK, but close to none of these people are native speakers; Esperanto is almost always learned as an additional language.

PIRAHA

This language, spoken by the Piraha tribe of the Brazilian Amazon, is an enigma that has perplexed linguists for decades. Piraha has so many idiosyncratic quirks that it would be impossible to unpack them all. One notable feature is that they have no numbers, only words for “few” and “more”. The same applies to colors; the Piraha people have words for “lighter” and “darker”, but not individual colors. The Piraha syntax is also extremely unique in that the language does not allow for sentences to be more than one clause. In English, and most languages, sentences could potentially be extended forever with connectives and punctuation, but such is not the case in Piraha. Linguists have found that cognitively, the Piraha people only comprehend what they can directly observe, and this is probably a result of their language system which doesn’t account for abstractions like numbers and past or future tenses. Scholars have attempted to teach the Piraha people some Portuguese, but found that the Piraha were unable to grasp counting or changing tense. Their native language had so intensely impacted their worldview that those concepts are incomprehensible to them. The Piraha language is deeply fascinating and is the foundation of how the Piraha people go about life. Unfortunately, more and more linguists have been attempting to teach them Portuguese and English from a young age, so this compelling and unique language may not be around for much longer.

ARCHI

Archi is native to the Republic of Dagestan in Russia. There are only around 1,000 Archi speakers left, and the language is considered by many linguists to be one of the most difficult to learn. Their alphabet has 70 consonants and 11 vowels (with a possible 26 pronunciations), 8 forms of gender-classification for nouns, and ten grammatical systems to convey different meanings. Any given verb in this language has 1.5 million different forms, and there are different numerical systems depending on what you’re counting. The enormous irregularities in the grammar rules make Archi an insurmountable struggle to learn. That being said, some native Dagestanis laughed when a reporter told them about the reputation of their language; they were amused at how this language they’d grown up with could be seen as difficult, illustrating the role perspective has in shaping an individual’s outlook.

WELSH

This is arguably the least obscure language on this list, but personally, I still think it is an enthralling dialect. Welsh words are often marveled at because of their long strings of consonants in a row and seemingly impossible pronunciation. An example of this is a small town in northern Wales called Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, which is 58 letters long. Welsh is a so-called phonetic language, as it is pronounced the way it’s spelled. This can actually be strange for English speakers who are accustomed to many words not being pronounced the way they seem. In Welsh, pronunciation is supposedly more straightforward, but the language does have an additional two vowels (w and y) and some sounds that don’t exist in English. The popularity of Welsh is actually on the rise; there are now almost 900,000 speakers, so the Welsh government seems to be fulfilling their goal of having 1 million speakers by 2050.