Somebody wonderful has created the greatest thing ever. It’s called The Great Language Game.
The game consists of 20-second audio clips from news programs on SBS Australia; you select from the multiple choice which language you think it is. Having the choices narrowed down to a few languages is easier than guessing from the 7,000 in the whole world, but some choices are easier than others. Most people might be able to tell the difference between spoken Korean and spoken Norwegian. It starts getting trickier when the languages are rarer (have you ever heard Dinka spoken before?), or when the choices are closely related. Slavophile that I am, I found it surprisingly difficult to decide if a clip was in Slovene or Bulgarian. And when the choices started including both Gujarati and Punjabi, or Kannada and Malayalam, I was just guessing wildly.
One of the most interesting things to me is trying to figure out how I know what I know when I recognize a language. With languages I’ve studied, it’s just simple recognition of a familiar friend. With others I can be fairly scientific – I know Aramaic is a Semitic language, and there are a lot of Arabic-sounding pharyngeals and glottal stops in that clip, so that must be it. Other times I’m not sure I can put my finger on my reasoning – I think that clip is Japanese because…the rhythm sounds Japanese-like to me.
I love phonology and phonetics – the study of the sounds of a language, how we make them, and what they do. So I’m pretty addicted to this game. I also love what the creators of this game have to say about the diversity of the sound clips: “These audio samples…reflect Australia’s rich migrant culture. Since people often migrate out of hardship, many of these languages should be common to international cities throughout the world. They might be spoken in a neighbourhood near you.” It’s a celebration of the phonic diversity of the multilingual communities of the world!
So…play it! I want to know how you do, which languages were easy and which choices were difficult, and how you figured out the ones that you did.
Copyright Allison Taylor-Adams. See About for details.