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
French Word: Oui
Spanish Word: Sí
Chinese (Simplified Han): 是
Now let’s try another word.
English Word: Huh
French Word: Huh
Spanish Word: Huh
Chinese (Simplified Han): 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.
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.