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?

This entry was posted in Language, Quiz questions.

33 Responses to Language quiz

  1. Drew says:

    At the risk of being extremely unscientific I’d like to guess that it’s some kind of North American native language (can’t tell you why, it simply strikes me as such).

  2. Halabund says:

    It’s clearly a reading from the New Testament (or related text), but don’t know the language …. something African?

  3. Vasiliy Faronov says:

    Wild guess: a Semitic language from the Middle East, perhaps a dialect of Arabic.

    I *think* I can hear words like “Hamas” and “Galili”, as well as repeated “-llah” endings at some point. The overall sound is, to me, reminiscent of Arabic (not that I have heard much of it, though).

  4. Vasiliy Faronov says:

    Halabund: how do you tell that it’s from the New Testament?

  5. Frank says:

    The Text appears to be from Luke 3. It sounds African to me, too.

  6. peter j. franke says:

    I go for Amharic, because I heard some ejectives…

  7. michael farris says:

    Sounds Sub-Saharan African to me (mainly voice quality and rhythm), but beyond that I’m clueless so far.

  8. Vasiliy Faronov says:

    Names are pronounced in an English manner, so perhaps the New Testament was introduced to this language’s people by Western missionaries.

  9. Will says:

    I think I hear nasal vowels? That really throws off the African languages idea, but I don’t have a better one. Maybe an Indian language (Hindi has nasals.)

  10. Chris Miller says:

    Definitely Bantu; it has quite a few prenasalised stops and labialised voiced stops and nasals (especially several [mw]), No West African coarticulated [kp] or [gb], what seem to be two tone levels and pretty regular penultimate stress, and ku- infinitive prefixes as well as what sounds like a perfective -ile ending, also very common across Bantu languages. Also, at one point when he lists names, he joins them with ‘na’ (and/with in most Bantu languages). It sounds to me like it’s probably from central southern Africa, likely eastern Zambia-Malawi area. Since the prenasalised voiceless stops don’t have added aspiration (for example ‘kontampu’), this probably isn’t a Malawian language so I think the general area is around northern-eastern Zambia and southwestern Tanganyika. I’ll have to give a few more listens to get a better idea.

  11. michael farris says:

    I was thinking Bantu, partly because it didn’t sound monosyllabic (rightly or wrongly I think of West African languages as largely tending toward shorter words than the rest of the continent) and the l’s which aren’t so common in WAfrica IINM (and prenasalized stops though I thought some WAfrican languages have those too).
    I’ll follow Miller’s lead and guess Bemba (since it’s the only language from Zambia that I’ve heard of (besides Nyanja which he seems to exclude).

  12. xarxa says:

    thought it was a portuguese creole for a coupla seconds at the beginning. i think it might be zulu?

  13. Trond Engen says:

    Good spotted, the NT. I’m trying to identify European loans, but I can’t find any except for the biblical names. That ought to be a clue. But I don’t have it. I agree that the biblicalities came through English, and that rules out the almost untouched regions of Zaire. Which parts of English Bantu Africa got the least influence? We seem to end up where Chris Miller and Michael Farris went before us: in the border region of Tanzania and Zambia. Maybe our host took out a fiche named Wanda. (I really have no idea, I made a guess just to be able to suggest that.)

  14. Trond Engen says:

    Xarxa: I also wondered about Portuguese. Maybe we’re in Angola?

  15. Simon says:

    Here’s a clue – it’s a language spoken in West Africa.

  16. Christopher Miller says:

    Ha! I was so fixated on the prenasalised stops and labialised consonants I forgot these aren’t *only* Bantu (even though you find them less in West Africa). And hearing certain syllable sequences and not knowing the language, it’s easy to be convinced it *must* be a Bantu language.

    Nice clue, Simon. I think we’re in Ghana here. Especially with the [hj] sequences I hear in a couple of places (now that I’m listening on my computer instead of on my phone), I think this may be Twi. It has a lot of the prenasalised and labialised consonants mostly typical of Bantu languages; as well, this would explain why the language has both [r] and [l] sounds, which is unusual for most Bantu languages. Second guess, Ewe. Apart from that, I can’t guess any further…

    I’m eager to find out what this is!

    (While we’re figuratively in Africa, Simon: you might be interested in looking up “Mandombe” script and adding it at some point…)

  17. michael farris says:

    I was remotely considering something Akan before, so now I’ll say that. I still have no idea what kind of Akan, that’s as close as I can guess.

  18. pennifer says:

    I’m happy to have at least guessed the African continent before reading anyone else’s guesses. My hat’s off to the rest of you for getting so much closer. Love this quiz!

  19. formiko says:

    When I was in Nigeria for missionary work, I heard Yoruba and Efik extensively, and while it has the cadence of Yoruba, I really don’t think it’s Yoruba.
    A previous poster mentioned Akan or Twi, but I don’t think it’s that either, but it’s been over 10 years. I might go with a language in Zambia.

  20. TJ says:

    This is an off topic post:
    The page of Arabic under the numerals, specifically, the Egyptian set; The number “3” is تلاته, (taláta).

    Well, I hate to call such “dialects” a language but anyway, since they are mentioned there.

  21. Simon says:

    Another clue – this language is spoken mainly in Nigeria.

  22. michael farris says:


    I’ll write a sentence to make sure the comment is acceptable.

  23. formiko says:

    Hmmmm…I’m leaning towards Igbo now…

  24. renato says:

    yoruba, spoken mainly in Nigeria.

  25. Chris Miller says:

    This is really intriguing! This language definitely doesn’t have a typical West African sound to it. No labiovelar [kp], [gb], especially; no nasal vowels that I can detect. Its sound profile is so much more like Bantu (or Ghanaian) languages than most languages of the region…

    So, Nigeria eh? Most certainly not Yoruba or Hausa. I rather doubt Igbo because I hear no labiovelars, but maybe they are there, just lightly pronounced and turning into labialised velars. Among the other major languages I know of, it could possibly be Kanuri from the northeast, but I have no idea of that language’s phonology. Not Fulfulde: thus language is tonal and doesn’t have long vowels or consonants. It could possibly be one of the delta languages, but I have no idea of their sound structure. Could it possibly be a “semi-Bantu” language from the mid-northeast, near Cameroon? Tiv, Efik, Ibibio? I usually think of them as having lots of consonant-final words unlike what I hear here. I’m not sure, but I think Tiv might also be spoken in Cameroon so it seems to be a possible fit for the latest clue…

  26. Simon says:

    The answer is Igbo, which is spoken mainly in Nigeria.

    The recording comes from a programme called Nnọọ n’ibe akwụkwọ asụsụ Igbo nke Family Radio

  27. michael farris says:

    I was first with the right gue– I mean answer? Cool! What do I win?

  28. Simon says:

    Michael – well done! Your prize, should you choose to accept it, is to choose a recording or piece of text for the next quiz. I’ll send you a list of the answers for the past year so that you don’t choose a language we’ve had recently.

  29. michael farris says:

    I already sent you one possible recording source (I don’t have the resources or knowledge to pull out a suitable section). Did you get it? What address should I send it to?

  30. Simon says:

    I haven’t received your suggestion, Michael. Could you send it to feedback[at]omniglot[dot]com?

  31. michael farris says:

    just sent the message again.

  32. What a great blog! It’s a pity that i can’t find your rrs address. If you can offer rrs subscription service, i can track your blog easier!

  33. pennifer says:

    You can just paste in the main blog’s address to your reader. That works for me on Google Reader.

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