Words with same meanings in different languages often seem to share same sounds

Words with same meanings in different languages often seem to share same sounds

After analyzing two-thirds of the languages worldwide, scientists have noticed an odd pattern. They have found that the words with same meaning in different languages often apparently have the same sounds, even in the cases where the two languages have no relation at all.

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the findings have countered a long-held idea in linguistics and may make the scenario difficult for the researchers trying to trace the history and evolution of the languages around the world.

The study authors pointed out that that in case you look at general words throughout unlinked languages from dissimilar areas of the world, you’ll typically find that they don’t sound alike at all. For instance, the meaning of ‘ptitsa’, ‘ndege’ and ‘tori’ is ‘bird’ in Russian, Swahili and Japanese, respectively.

Main author Damian Blasi, a language data scientist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland said, “The idea that there is essentially no relation between sound and meaning has [existed for] over 100 years now. And it strikes at something really intuitive”.

Blasi said mostly researchers discount the idea that sounds might have some link to the meaning of their words partially because it boosts half-baked thinking that may result into flawed science.

Of course, there are many related words within a language that sound alike, for example glance, glimmer and glare in English, all of them have vision and a ‘gl’ in the starting. But it doesn’t ensure the same ‘gl-‘ cluster presence throughout other languages also.

Even then, Blasi and his team thought that there wasn’t enough data supporting that claim either way.

But computing and modern statistical methods’ enhancements now indicate that rather than comparing some or a few dozen languages, the experts can possibly do what generations of linguists prior to them failed to do: study thousands of language data sets simultaneously.


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