Huh?

Language is an interesting thing, isn’t it? Let’s take a look at a few words in different languages and compare the differences.

English Word: Yes

(Credit: Obeygiant.com)

 

French Word: Oui
Spanish Word: Sí
Arabic: نعم
Chinese (Simplified Han): 是
German: Ja
Russian: да

Now let’s try another word.

English Word: Huh

Source: FanPop.Com
(Credit: Fanpop.Com)

 

French Word: Huh
Spanish Word: Huh
Arabic: Huh
Chinese (Simplified Han): Huh
German: Huh
Russian: Huh

Wait–is that a universal word? Yup. Huh seems to be cross-cultural and the one word that everyone, in every language, understands.

Check out this video on Slate.Com for the research and controversy over this newly designated universal word.

Personally, in my travels to China and Taiwan, I have first-hand experience with the word “huh” being used across cultures to convey the same meaning. Body language is also similar–a shrug is a shrug in China as well as in America.

The debate over whether “huh” is a word or not is a fascinating one. Is a grunt a word? No, because that doesn’t require any use or shaping of the mouth. But “huh” takes an oral effort to shape and create the proper sound, distinguishing it from a grunt.

Depicted: How someone who has studied linguistics sees your mouth.

 

The utterance of “huh” requires an open palate with use of your uvula to create the “huh” sound. To me, the fact the sound can be mapped linguistically makes it a word and not just a random utterance like a grunt, which doesn’t convey a universally recognized meaning in addition to no shaping from the mouth and other linguistic elements.

I love discoveries like this because I feel that they show that some sentiments cross cultures and that we, as a species, are more alike than different in so many ways.

It’s also cool to think that our capacity for language gives us the ability to develop similar words across such linguistic barriers.

Amanda Riggle

Amanda Riggle

Amanda is the Managing Editor at The Poetics Project and of The Socialist, the national magazine of The Socialist Party USA, as well as the Lead Editor of Pomona Valley Review's upcoming 11th issue. She graduated with a BA in English Education and a minor in Political Science. She is currently enrolled in an English MA program with an emphasis in Literature. During her free time, Amanda enjoys writing poetry, reading, traveling, crocheting, watching entire seasons of campy shows on Netflix, and, of course, writing blogs.
Amanda Riggle

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