A Universal Word?

Linguists recently announced that “Huh?” or a similar word seems to be a universal way of confirming understanding of another speaker. They studied 10 languages on five continents, including Dutch, Icelandic, Mandarin Chinese, the West African Siwu and the Australian aboriginal Murrinh-Patha. These languages have very different grammatical structures, but all contain a syllable people use to make sure they are understanding what is being said. The variants sound like “huh?,” hah?,” “eh?” and other closely related sounds, and all end with a questioning intonation. Others had proposed that “mama” and “dada” might be universal sounds, but “huh” is much more widely distributed.

For what it’s worth, when I taught college ESL classes, my students showed me how widespread our word “chocolate” is. The accent may be slightly different but you would instantly recognize the word as “chocolate.” So no matter where you are in the world, you will always be able to get your fix without someone saying, “Huh?” to you.


Filed under All things having to do with the English language

2 responses to “A Universal Word?

  1. I think I also read somewhere that ok and Coca-Cola were the most widely understood words but unfortunately I have no idea where I read it or whether it,s true…huh? sounds like a likely universal word though. Very interesting!


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