Language quiz

Here is 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.

19 Responses to Language quiz

  1. Daydreamer says:

    No music, no singing in this song. It’s at least as mysterious as the language in which the two men are talking (on first hearing: Slavic with nasal vowels = Polish?).
    Thank you, Simon, for not playing an instrumental, lol.

  2. Simon says:

    Doh! I forgot to change the text from the quiz when it was a song. Now corrected.

  3. acutia says:

    Something in the ‘Tibetan’ family?

  4. Daydreamer says:

    Still not convinced that it’s a Slavic language at all. But if so, Polish proper would be far too easy.
    So I’m nailing Kashubian on the board, which, among Poles themselves, is considered a dialect of Polish and not a language of its own.

  5. d.m.falk says:

    I don’t know how anyone would get a Slavic language out of that! :P

    I’m pretty sure it’s Tibetan.

    It sounds like it’s coming from a radio broadcast or podcast relating to a radio program, which either came from VOA or Voice of Tibet, both of which have Tibetan-language programs.

    I’ve heard VoT before.


  6. prase says:

    @d.m.falk: I am a Slav and for the first ten seconds or so I thought it is Slavic, probably Sorbian. When I haven’t understood a single word after half of the recording I reconsidered, but it is quite understandable that a non-Slavic speaker can suspect this to be Kashubian.

    I was going to guess “some language from southern China”, but if you say Tibetan, I believe you.

  7. Joe Mock says:

    Tibetan is the first thing that came to my mind too.

  8. Joe Mock says:

    Tibetan is the first thing that came to my mind too.

  9. Roger Bowden says:

    It sounds to me like Mongolian or one of its dialects.

  10. David Eger says:

    My first thought was Uyghur, but having listened to an Uyghur news clip on YouTube, I’ve ruled that out (It sounds very like Turkish, without any obvious phonetic influence from the Chinese subcontinent.)

    According to the omniscient and infallible Wikipedia, ‘Tibetan’ could mean any one of 25 related languages. I could choose one of them, but it would only be an uninformed guess. Having done some Youtubing (Is that cheating?) , I think I can rule out Amdo, Ü-Tsang, Ladakhi and Dzongkha. But Sherpa (Nepali) sounds like a likely candidate.

  11. David Eger says:

    Roger – I also thought of Mongolian. But the bits I listened to seemed to have various consonant sounds that are not present in the quiz clip.

  12. Rauli says:

    To me it sounds like it’s got influence from French. I don’t hear any Slavic in it, either.

  13. David Eger says:

    “To me it sounds like it’s got influence from French. I don’t hear any Slavic in it, either.”

    It has some nasalised vowels and a lot of fronted ‘u’ in common with French, but I think these may be co-incidental. I suppose the nasalised vowels might be reminiscent of those in Polish as well, but there’s definitely nothing Slavic about this language.

  14. Simon says:

    The answer is Tibetan (བོད་སྐད), a Tibeto-Burman language spoken mainly China (Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan), India, Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh and Nepal.

    The recording comes from the Voice of Tibet

  15. d.m.falk says:

    Hee! :D I was right on both counts! :D

    Rauli, David: The French-like nasalisation of Tibetan, along with its steady chopchopchop rhythm, are key characteristics that distinguish it from others of the Tibeto-Burmese branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages. While it is a tonal language as well, spoken tones are only used to distinguish certain syllables/words to reduce ambiguity, hence the nearly-monotone speech patterns heard. Nasalisation in Dzhongkha is not nearly as profound, even though it’s closely related.

    Roger, David: Mongolian is neither monosyllabic nor tonal– It’s more like a cross between Turkic languages (Uyghur, Tuvan) and Korean, but it’s neither. Probably sometime in the near future, Simon will have a sample of Mongolian. :)


  16. Rauli says:

    I really don’t understand how you can hear whether a language is tonal or not. I can’t even recognize Japanese pitch accent, let alone Chinese tone. I suppose I just need more practice.

  17. Chris Miller says:

    Now we’ve established it’s Tibetan, I think I hear the Tibetan word for Tibet several times: བོད་ ‹bod› [pʰøʔ].

  18. Simon says:

    d.m.falk – we had Mongolian for the language quiz a few years ago (not a very good quality recording), and you can hear Mongolian on my Mongolian page and on the Mongolian phrases page.

  19. d.m.falk says:

    @Rauli: Radio (even online) is an excellent tool to familiarise with how a language sounds. :) Written Tibetan emphasises some tones by usage of final consonants within a syllable cluster. Vocally, if the tone is used to reduce unambiguity, it’s consistent with how it’s supposed to be used; otherwise, tones are dropped in common speech and leave context to determine what’s meant. This is common in many, if not most, tonal languages, including Chinese. (Broadcast Chinese follows what has been used for centuries in Chinese operas and theatre, in which tones are not only emphasised, they can be exaggerated for the sake of clarity. Tibetan doesn’t have this tradition.) As for Japanese, I don’t know much about its tonality (though I’ve heard it mentioned many times that tones are used, though I haven’t been convinced of this, and I do listen to Japanese radio online often enough), but I do know most regional accents depend on vowel shifts (“a” to “o”, “e” to “i”, long “i” to short “i”, etc.), and whether either “i” or “u” (or both!) in syllables are silenced or not! (It is perfectly fine to pronounce them, but some areas- Tokyo, in particular, being the national standard dialect- often will drop the “i” and “u” vowels, giving Japanese the feeling of a language with complex consonant clusters or final consonants, beyond the standardised “n”, which itself may be pronounced “n”, “ng” or “m”, depending on usage.)

    (Common words or place names that follow the vowel droppage are: “kudasai” (k’dasai – “please”); “Asakusa” (Asak’sa); “Tsukuba” (like “scuba”); “Hiroshima” (Hirohsh’ma); “Fukushima” (F’kush’ma).)

    @Chris Miller: You’ll also hear Lhasa mentioned- “Lo-sa”.

    @Simon: Being that it _has_ been a few years, it’s clear that it’s been forgotten. :) I occasionally listen to the Mongolian station from Chinese National Radio, just to hear it from time to time. :)