Name the language

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you guess the language and where it’s spoken?

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This entry was posted in Language.

29 Responses to Name the language

  1. Wulfahariaz says:

    It sounds like a tonal language with a simple syllabic structure. Kuki-Thaadow?

  2. Christopher Miller says:

    My first guess is Bengali. The intonation and stress pattern sounds North Indian (i.e. Indo-Aryan), especially with what sounds like sentence final stress on a short final verb (that sounds similar to Hindi hai). I seem to hear retroflex r and distinct aspirated and unaspirated stops, which would put it in that family too. And the common /o/ sound is something Bengali has where many other Indo-Aryan languages have /o/ or schwa. Three are other nearby languages that have these features too, so it could just as likely be Oriya or Sylheti/Syloti if I’m right about what I think I hear.

  3. Vivaek says:

    It’s definitely not Bengali, or any related language like Oriya. If it is Indian, it is not Indo-Aryan.

    I agree with tonal language.

  4. Christopher Miller says:

    On second thought, maybe this is some southeast Asian (including eastern India) tonal language with a limited range of tones. I’m really curious to find out what this is…!

  5. P. says:

    Random guess: Lü?

  6. Petréa Mitchell says:

    Huh, it didn’t sound tonal to me. The cadences sound a lot like Japanese to my ear somehow, but it’s definitely not Japanese.

    Ainu? Almost certainly not, but with nothing better to guess…

  7. Trond Engen says:

    Speaking with all the authority of my usual ignorance I want it to be a Chinese language with conservative phonology. Yue?

  8. Petréa Mitchell says:

    Having had a chance to listen to it with proper sound now, rather than on my netbook speaker, okay, it might be tonal. But I still have no idea what it is.

  9. michael farris says:

    Burmese maybe? I can’t think of anything else to add…

  10. Andrew says:

    Definitely tonal, I’m going to go with Vietnamese.

  11. Vivaek says:

    Definitely not Vietnamese either, the sounds are very different. Sounds like a Chinese language to me.

  12. Podolsky says:

    No doubt a tonal language with open syllables. I vote for Hmong.

  13. joe mock says:

    It sounds like it should be Korean but isn’t.

  14. Rauli says:

    It sounds like a Chinese dialect to me.

  15. Simon says:

    Some interesting guesses! Michael Farris got it – the answer is Burmese (ဗမာစကား), which is spoken in Burma.

    The recording comes from VOANews.com (ဗီြအုိေအ ျမန္မာ).

  16. Christopher Miller says:

    Wow! I remember there was a Burmese recording earlier this year and I managed to figure that one out, but this sounded really different to me. Wrong side of the Bay of Bengal!

  17. Jurčík says:

    It is Chinese? or dialect on Chinese?

  18. Christopher Miller says:

    For Jurčík-

    When Simon says what language it is, that’s what language it is: he’s the one who puts up the puzzles.

  19. bennie says:

    I’ve always known that Burmese would sound sort of like Chinese or another SE Asian tonal language to most people. But I would never have guessed that it could also sound like Bengali. :P

    (btw, I’m a native Burmese speaker)

  20. Sean Hsu says:

    Not sure I have heard speaking Burmese before. And it’s a bit surprising to know Burmese would sound similar to Chinese, also Japanese, Korean.
    So this is how Chinese sounds to others! :)

    (I’m always confused when I read other people describe Chinese sounds like chin chan…)

  21. stormboy says:

    At Sean Hsu: (I’m always confused when I read other people describe Chinese sounds like chin chan…)

    Perhaps this is because historically, the first Chinese language many people in the ‘West’ were exposed to was Cantonese, which has many syllables following this structure/ending in -n or -ng.

  22. bronz says:

    @stormboy
    Cantonese has no significantly more or less -n or -ng final segments than Mandarin or other Chinese languages, nor do they occupy a significant proportion in everyday speech compared to other final segments. I’d rather say it’s more likely because of the fact that Chinese languages are monosyllabic, and the ch in China/Chinese (and segments similar to this sound are not proportionally more common than others, either). It’s just a convenient stereotype.

    As for the recording, I think it’s just the tonal quality that makes some people think it sounds like a Chinese or Southeast Asian language.

  23. michael farris says:

    The tones didn’t stick out to me, what I thought was distinctive is that it had a particular rhythm that I associate with verb final languages. FWIW.

  24. Petréa Mitchell says:

    Ah, maybe that’s what I was picking up when I thought the cadences sounded like Japanese. Japanese is the only verb-final language I have much familiarity with.

  25. stormboy says:

    @ bronz: Cantonese has no significantly more or less -n or -ng final segments than Mandarin or other Chinese languages, nor do they occupy a significant proportion in everyday speech compared to other final segments.

    Cantonese is rather restricted in which consonants are permitted in coda position – nasals and unreleased stops (p, t, k) only.

    @ bronz: Chinese languages are monosyllabic

    While modern Chinese languages do have many consisting of only one syllable, they also have many that consist of more than one syllable (I’m thinking specifically about Cantonese and Mandarin).

  26. stormboy says:

    ‘…do have many…’ – many ‘words’ that is.

  27. bronz says:

    @stormboy
    [nasals and unreleased stops (p, t, k) only]
    And zero coda, i.e. ending in vowels. Again -n and -ng do not significantly dominate the syllable-final position. There may be few consonants allowed in the coda position but it doesn’t necessarily mean they all manifest often. Vowel-final syllables are extremely common, possibly more common than consonant-finals.

    As to the other point, I don’t see how that supports your argument or detracts mine, but while the majority of lexical items do contain two syllables, and there are words that contain more than two as well, the structure of the language is monosyllabic. There are comparatively rather few multisyllabic words that cannot be broken down into individual one-syllable morphemes.

    My main point was that there are other more plausible reasons as to why people might say that Chinese sounds like “chin chan”. Yours is a good guess but I wanted to point out that nasals are far from the most common syllable-final segments in Cantonese. Maybe it is common enough to register as a distinctive feature for non-speakers, but we’d probably have to do a study to know that.

  28. stormboy says:

    @bronz: And zero coda, i.e. ending in vowels.

    Yes, that’s why I specifically referred to the consonants permitted.

    “There may be few consonants allowed in the coda position but it doesn’t necessarily mean they all manifest often… Maybe it is common enough to register as a distinctive feature for non-speakers, but we’d probably have to do a study to know that.”

    Agreed.

    “As to the other point, I don’t see how that supports your argument or detracts mine”

    Certainly not trying to detract from your argument – just presenting another viewpoint!

  29. Jurčík says:

    For Christopher Miller:
    Thanks