Language quiz

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Do you know or can you guess which language it’s in and where it’s spoken?

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This entry was posted in Language, Quiz questions.

25 Responses to Language quiz

  1. John A says:

    It’s definitely a Chinese dialect. Does not sound like Cantonese or Taiwanese to me. Very similar to Mandarin, but that seems too easy. I’m gonna guess a northern dialtect like Mandarin or Jin.

  2. Tamar says:

    A Chinese dialect? The consonants seem quite different from Shanghainese. I don’t think it’s Cantonese, despite the soft word endings (which Mandarin lacks) and syllables like goi and gam. I heard “guniang” (woman) and “nainai” (granny), possibly “fouze” (otherwise). In short: I have no idea ;)

  3. Chris Miller says:

    Vietnamese.

  4. Phillip Johnson says:

    Maybe Cambodian or Vietnamese?

  5. Tamar says:

    Definitely not Khmer (Cambodian).

  6. Trond Engen says:

    I want to guess a Chinese language, but my wife says Vietnamese. How do we solve that? I’ll try a Non-Sinitic language in Southern China. Hmong?

  7. Pretty Boy says:

    Did I hear the word “guam”? It’s a long shot, but I’m saying something Austronesian. Or Lao.

  8. bronz says:

    Definitely not a Chinese language. Sounds very Vietnamese. The alveolar implosive d [ɗ] gives it away, among other things.

  9. d.m.falk says:

    My first impression is Vietnamese, so I’ll stich with that.

    d.m.f.

  10. Christopher Miller says:

    As ‘bronz’ says, the implosive [ɗ] points to a Vietnamese phonology; so do the implosive [ɓ], [f] and [v] initials (and only single stops, not clusters, in initial position); bilabial, alveolar and velar stops and nasals in final position, and unrounded high and mid back vowels [ɯ] (‹ư›) and [ɤ] (‹ơ›), alone and in diphthongs.

  11. Petréa Mitchell says:

    I’m not guessing anything beyond “central to east Asian”. :-)

  12. formiko says:

    I hate how it sounds, so I’m guessing Vietnamese, Karen, Shan or Hmong but we already did Hmong, so I’m sticking with Karen.

  13. Imbecilica says:

    Definitely Vietnamese, Southern dialect I’ll add. The man is talking about a music writer and one of his songs.

    P.S: I don’t get how anyone could mistake it for Chinese let alone Cambodian.

    _______________________________________________________________

    …Để chia sẻ những cảm nhận của nhà thơ những hình ảnh của các cô Sài Gòn ngày nay. Tiếng gọi tàu vẫn chứng tỏ những ma lực của nó, quyến rủa người đọc thơ đến mức. Sau bằng áy năm, hình như mỗi lần nghe được bản nhạc “Tiễn Em” do nhạc sĩ Phạm Duy phổ từ bài thơ chưa bao giờ buồn thuế của ông, người nghe vẫn cảm thấy hình như đang dấy lên nổi buồn man mác. Nổi buồn không tên nhưng có thật và nó hôn ấy trong bắt cứ người nào nếu đã từng thừa nhận rằng…

    …To share the sentiments of the poet through the images of the females of Saigon of today. The sound of the ships bares witness to the untold power of the poem, cursing the reader to a certain degree. After all these faded years, it seems as if every time one listens to the song “Parting You (male to female)” by artist Duy Pham who wrote such lyrics that he had never done before, the listener will feel as if they are still stirring up past notions of great sadness. A sadness with no name but one that is of truth and it will be felt inside anyone who has ever admitted…

  14. Tamar says:

    I have nothing to add apart from agreeing with those who are puzzled that someone could think that this is a Chinese dialect, but I do have two questions:
    1. Can anyone tell me whether the Vietnamese on NHK Vietnamese is the Northern or Southern variant?
    2. In comments to other posts as well as this one, people have identified language based on its phonology. Is that a simple task for any linguist? [I think I wouldn’t be able to shake off an odd feeling if I were able to analyse a(ny) language like that, but didn’t have any familiarity with it whatsoever (like having rudimentary conversation skills etc). Perhaps that’s why I decided not to become a linguist ;)]

  15. Imbecilica says:

    NHK Vietnamese uses the Northern dialect.

  16. Chris Miller says:

    I can understand people thinking this might be a Chinese dialect (or language) — or something vaguely east Asian — based on the general sound of the language. After all, not everyone is familiar with all the intricate details of the way different languages sound. For all someone knows, a given recording might turn out to be a surprise language spoken by a group in some unsuspected corner of Region X somewhere.

    As for identifying recordings by the content of their phonology, It’s probably phonologists and phoneticians in general who are more likely to be able to do this kind of identification, as opposed to linguists in general. Being a phonologist myself, I am often able to do this by drawing on the phonological “lore” I have accumulated over the years from reading analyses and sketches of the phonological structure of diverse languages. From time to time I have actually had the opportunity to hear samples of the languages spoken, whether in news reports (e.g. Kinyarwanda in the mid 1990s, Shona and Ndebele later in the decade, and so on), or in songs in one language or another. Often enough though, as in this case, it’s enough to be familiar with a language’s phonological inventory and to be familiar with the sounds associated with IPA symbols you’ve seen in descriptions of a language. In this case, I had only heard very small snatches of spoken Vietnamese previously, so this was a “So that’s what it actually sounds like!” experience for me.

  17. James C. says:

    @Tamar:

    Identifying a language on the basis of its phonology is only easy if you’re familiar with the phonology of that language, or have access to materials describing its phonology. If you’re completely uninformed about a particular language’s phonology then it’s somewhat harder. Note that knowing about a language’s phonology doesn’t imply any sort of competence with the language. I know a good bit about the phonology of some Pacific Northwest languages and could identify them in a heartbeat, but I can’t understand a word of them.

    Because there are tendencies for certain phonological features to cluster in certain geographic areas, it’s still easy to narrow down the possible languages even if one is unfamiliar with a particular language’s phonology. Thus hearing clicks means that the language must be spoken in Southern Africa, and hearing ejectives means that it is either in the Caucausus, western North America, or Central America. Hearing contour tones (like in Vietnamese here) means that it’s almost certainly East or Southeast Asia, although there are some contour tone systems in Africa and the Americas too. There are lots of other phonological variables besides these, of course, but they are representative.

    I don’t know of any “odd feeling” associated with this. It’s really just an intellectual exercise. It’s nice when you’re right, and when you’re wrong you learn something new.

  18. Phil says:

    “I don’t get how anyone could mistake it for Chinese let alone Cambodian.”

    I do, by not having more than a passing acquaintance with the languages of that part of the world.

    A few years back, I travelled through south western China, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia, and listened intently to the languages being spoken around me and tried to learn a little of each. I was pretty sure (but not absolutely certain) that it wasn’t one of the main languages of those countries. I would have guessed Vietnamese, Burmese or a less well-known dialect of Chinese.

  19. Simon says:

    I got the recording from Radio Free Asia‘s Burmese section so assumed it was Burmese, but perhaps it is Vietnamese.

  20. Christopher Miller says:

    My guess, Simon, is that you may have been stymied by someone at RFA mistakenly uploading a Vietnamese audio file to the Burmese language page. I checked the Burmese language multimedia page at the site today, and the Burmese being spoken there sounds markedly different from the Vietnamese in the file you uploaded. Two level tones, with a notably different intonation and rhythm, and much simpler vowel system and range of syllable coda consonants.

  21. formiko says:

    That’s DEFINITELY not Burmese. I was in Burma for 3 months, and that sounded nothing like Burmese.

  22. peter j. franke says:

    Imbecilia is THE expert in Vietnamese, so he must be right!

  23. Vatsala says:

    So what is the answer?? What language is this? :) I vote for Vietnamese too. Eager to know wht language it actually is…

  24. Simon says:

    Vatsala – the answer is Vietnamese.

  25. Imbecilica says:

    As I stated above, it is the Southern Dialect of Vietnamese.

    …Để chia sẻ những cảm nhận của nhà thơ những hình ảnh của các cô Sài Gòn ngày nay. Tiếng gọi tàu vẫn chứng tỏ những ma lực của nó, quyến rủa người đọc thơ đến mức. Sau bằng áy năm, hình như mỗi lần nghe được bản nhạc “Tiễn Em” do nhạc sĩ Phạm Duy phổ từ bài thơ chưa bao giờ buồn thuế của ông, người nghe vẫn cảm thấy hình như đang dấy lên nổi buồn man mác. Nổi buồn không tên nhưng có thật và nó hôn ấy trong bắt cứ người nào nếu đã từng thừa nhận rằng…

    …To share the sentiments of the poet through the images of the females of Saigon of today. The sound of the ships bares witness to the untold power of the poem, cursing the reader to a certain degree. After all these faded years, it seems as if every time one listens to the song “Parting You (male to female)” by artist Duy Pham who wrote such lyrics that he had never done before, the listener will feel as if they are still stirring up past notions of great sadness. A sadness with no name but one that is of truth and it will be felt inside anyone who has ever admitted…