Friday, December 25, 2009

Is that a lump in your throat or are you just speaking !Xóõ?

An interesting article from a writer at The Economist searching for the world's most difficult language. While we sometimes hear about how difficult English can be to pick up as a second language (why is it that our noses run while our feet smell?), the author of the article argues that English isn't that bad, with its lack of gendered nouns and mostly painless pluralization rules (usually just adding an -s works). No, that honor may well go to !Xóõ, which is so badass it actually gives you a lump on your larynx just from speaking it. (via Languagehat)
For sound complexity, one language stands out. !Xóõ, spoken by just a few thousand, mostly in Botswana, has a blistering array of unusual sounds. Its vowels include plain, pharyngealised, strident and breathy, and they carry four tones. It has five basic clicks and 17 accompanying ones. The leading expert on the !Xóõ, Tony Traill, developed a lump on his larynx from learning to make their sounds. Further research showed that adult !Xóõ-speakers had the same lump (children had not developed it yet).

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