Language quiz

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

This entry was posted in Language, Quiz questions.

26 Responses to Language quiz

  1. Ryan says:

    Is it Shan? It sounds like Thai with a few Burmese words.

  2. prase says:

    A Chinese dialect. To pick one, I say Min.

  3. cl says:

    It can’t be Min, I’ve grown up with speakers of Min variants (though I don’t speak it).

  4. Jeremy says:

    Some dialect of chinese. Maybe mandarin or hokkien but not cantonese.

  5. pennifer says:

    Yesh, I’d guess a Chinese language as well. I can hear that it’s tonal, but it doesn’t sound like Mandarin or Cantonese to me. Beyond that I can’t say.

  6. pennifer says:

    Or, less drunkenly, “Yes, I’d guess…”

  7. Chris Miller says:

    The unrounded high back vowel [ɯ] in many words/syllables in the recording, and what sounds like an implosive voiced stop [ɓ] are pretty typical of Southeast Asian languages. It doesn’t seem to have the rich tone inventory of Vietnamese, and the tones and rhythm sound more like a Chinese language than what I recall of Thai. Certainly not Khmer, which has two registers rather than tones.

    My guess is that it may be a Thai language (including Lao and Thai languages further north in SW China), or possibly a nearby language from another family such as Hmong-Mien or even perhaps Cham (an Austronesian language group of southern Vietnam and the Mekong region in Cambodia). Hard for me to pinpoint anything more specific.

  8. epli says:

    Definitely some Sinitic language, it sounds like Yue to me. I’m also pretty sure I heard faai3 lok6 (快樂), and since the “one language is never enough” foreign counterpart is in Cantonese, it seems likely. Just for fun I’m gonna go with Taishanese.

  9. Petréa Mitchell says:

    I also think something Sinitic, but not Mandarin.

  10. Jonathan K. says:

    Xiang Chinese, perhaps?

  11. Samir Alam says:

    Something Sinitic, but definitely not Mandarin min or Cantonese

  12. Trond Engen says:

    Hey, I was going to say Yue! Not that I know what it sounds like, so I may just as well say Wu.

  13. P. says:

    Could it be Tai Lü?

  14. Neil Dolinger says:

    I heard enough to venture that it is a Sinitic language. It is definitely not Mandarin or a language in the Mandarin continuum. I am fairly certain it is not a Wu language either. It doesn’t sound like either the Yue of Guangzhou or Hong Kong, but I’m not familiar enough with the languages elsewhere in Guangdong to rule out Yue. Someone else has ruled out Min languages. That leaves Gan, Xiang, and Hakka.

  15. d.m.falk says:

    @Chris Miller: Cham is the only Malay language to thrive on mainland Indochina- I have a little familiarity (a music CD) of Cham, and this isn’t. I’m more inclined with your Hmong guess, and may be closer than my own, as I was thinking either Naxi or Yi– Most of us here so far are thinking of the right general region (southern Sino-Tibetan or northern Tai language groups, since characteristics resemble both).

    (who is pretty sure is wrong– I seem to be most of the time. 😛 )

  16. bennie says:

    Sounds like a southern Chinese dialect to me (Hokkien, Hakka etc.). But it might also be a Tai-Kadai language. However it’s definitely not Tibeto-Burman.

  17. Simon says:

    Here’s a clue – this isn’t a Sinitic language.

  18. André says:

    It sounds very, very Tai-Kadai… Possibly Lao.

  19. bronz says:

    I definitely hear a few words that are likely to be Chinese (roughly transcribed and translated):

    [jin wai] — 因为 ‘because’
    [ji la:i] — 以来 ‘(ever) since’
    [jat dzIk song ba:i] 一直崇拜 ‘always worshiped’ (this is the only part that really sounded like Cantonese)

    There are also the common -p -t -k finals in southern Chinese languages. I am very certain it is none of the usual suspects like Cantonese, Hokkien, or Shanghainese. I’m also fairly certain it’s not Hakka, Teochew, or Taishanese either. It might be a less standard language/”dialect”, but I don’t feel comfortable even guessing which Chinese subfamily except to say this is more likely from around the south. Good one.

  20. bronz says:

    Ha, it’s not Sinitic? Then I’ll take a stab in the dark and guess a Kadai language, Ong Be.

  21. Chris Miller says:

    My guess, from the Chinese-like tones and intonation coupled with the speech sounds you don’t find in any Sinitic language that I know, is that this is a minority language of SW China. As to which one and which family — Tai-Kadai/Kra Dai or Hmong-Mien — I have no inkling.

  22. Simon says:

    Another clue: this language is spoken mainly in Guangxi province of China.

  23. Matthew says:

    Zhuang. It was my first assumption before reading your clues.

  24. Simon says:

    Matthew got it – the answer is Zhuang (Saw cuengh), a northern Tai language spoken in parts of southern China. This particular dialect is Yongbei Zhuang, which is spoken in Wuming County in Guangxi Province.

    The recording comes from the Global Recordings Network.

  25. bronz says:

    Looking at the sample text on the Omniglot Zhuang page, it looks like Chinese borrowing is very pervasive (at least a 3rd of the text). Just looking at the Old Zhuang script, any Chinese speaker would be able to tell it’s about freedom (cwyouz), rights (genzli), and equality (bingzdaengj)*, and if you look at the Latin script you can tell many of the words are really borrowed (i.e. not just the written form, but also the phonology). I’ve read about some research suggesting a Zhuang substrata in Yue languages as well, which should only make sense given the geographic proximity. I don’t feel so bad guessing a southern Sinitic language or hearing Chinese words in the recording after all (I think at least the “worship” that I heard is not likely just a coincidence, given the Christian context).

    *z and j are tone markers, if you compare Zhuang with Cantonese and Mandarin, ignoring tone:

    Zhuang = Zhuang IPA = Cantonese IPA = Mandarin IPA = Chinese = English
    cwyouz = [ʃɯjou] = [tsijɐu] = [tsɨjoʊ] = 自由 = freedom
    genzli = [kenli] = [kʰynlei] = [tɕʰɥɛnli] = 权利 = right(s)
    bingdaengj = [piŋtæŋ] = [pʰɪŋtɐŋ] = [pʰiŋtəŋ] = 平等 = equal(ity)

  26. Matthew says:

    I must say that Zhuang is quite an amazing langauge. I have never been exposed to it, but when I hear it, I notice a similar pattern as in Vietnamese, with phonological hints of Thai and Lao, and various bits of Southern Chinese dialects. It must be the geographical location of where Zhuang is spoken that contributes to its sound, and it must act as a kind of conglomeration of Vietnamese and Chinese.

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