Listen to “Huh”—a Universal Word—in Russian, Icelandic, Lao And Siwu | Smart News | Smithsonian

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Listen to “Huh”—a Universal Word—in Russian, Icelandic, Lao And Siwu

Researchers think "huh" is a great example of "convergent cultural evolution of linguistic items," or a word that came into being out of a simple conversational need

smithsonian.com

Efforts to introduce a universal language—think Solresol, Esperanto and Volapuk—have thus far failed. But one useful little expression has managed to defy cultural barriers and integrate itself across six continents. “Huh,” researchers report, is such a necessary term that it evolved independently on multiple occasions around the world.

As BoingBoing explains, “‘Huh’ is not innate (other primates don’t say it), but the circumstances of its use (needing to quickly and briefly prompt another speaker to repeat herself) are universal, so languages that share no commonalities still converged on this word.”

The authors investigated ten languages around the world and found that words that sound like ”huh” and serve the same purpose occurred more frequently than would be predicted by chance. They think “huh” is a great example of “convergent cultural evolution of linguistic items,” or a word that came into being out of a simple conversational need.

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