Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

They only studied 10 languages. That doesn't seem like enough to call it "universal".

What about those African languages made up of all clicking sounds?

They studied 31 languages. One of the languages studied is ≠Akhoe Hai//om, which is a click language. It was not one of the 10 studied in deeper detail, but they found huh there.

Still, studying only 31 languages and argue that something is universal is dumb as heck. Given there are 6000 of them safer approach would be the search for almost universal or widely distributed phenomena.

If those 31 languages cover >90% of all humans I think making claims about universality is reasonably justified.

If the claim is that the majority of humans speak a language which includes huh? as a feature, then sure. But that doesn't seem very interesting scientifically...

By calling it a universal word, I guess I thought they were referring to the concept of linguistic universals [1], which are interesting since they might suggest something about the deeper way in which our brains work. To make a claim about linguistic universals like that I really think they should study more than 10 (31) languages.

According to this page [2], 44% of people speak an Indo-European language, and 96% speak a member of one of the top 10 language families. The remaining 4% includes 84 language families. I imagine there's a ton of variety there, and for understanding human language and cognition they all probably have just as much value as the larger language families.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_universal

[2] https://www.vistawide.com/languages/language_families_statis...

Universal should mean that virtually every human in history used it. Just because something is pervasive in modern societies does not mean is a fundamental feature of human nature. Language is universal. Fear and anger are universal.

> What about those African languages made up of all clicking sounds?

I am unaware of any African language, or any language in general, that only uses clicking sounds. Which one are you thinking of?

They might be thinking of Xhosa; but I reckon I've heard a language expressed only with clicks (perhaps it's a vernacular?), and a whistle-language used by some mountain peoples (in Eastern Europe?).

Even Xhosa has some consonants that aren't clicks, afaik. Also, your comment leads to this interesting wiki article : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whistled_language

Yes, Xhosa isn't "all clicks", as you point out, I've a friend who can speak a little of it, but just my guess about a "click language" people might have half-heard of and assumed was all clicks.

I've been trying to recall where I heard a "pure clicking" language, I've a feeling it was a bushmen docu from Botswana - and it might just be that the hunters used words that only required clicks, or I misheard, etc..

Anyway, http://listverse.com/2018/08/10/10-extraordinary-languages-t... and https://www.britannica.com/topic/click-languages mention Damin, which sounds (no pun intended!) like it might have been mainly composed of clicking sounds?

Perhaps what I heard was slang/dialect tailored to the activity, which IIRC was hunting.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact