Human Languages Use Similar Sounds for Common Words

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by Neil Godfrey

Amazing . . . can’t wait for further research to confirm or refute . . .

Sound–meaning association biases evidenced across thousands of languages

(or doi: 10.1073/pnas.1605782113)

Or you can read a short version on the news site where I first learned about it:

Linguistic study proves more than 6,000 languages use similar sounds for common words

Or under a title I thought most apt:

A nose by any other name would sound the same, study finds

Here’s a list of the sounds taken from the original PNAS article (symbols are described here):


Nor can I resist the nice map from the same article:


Trying to think through the significance(s) should it be confirmed. . . . .

First, a universal grammar. . . . now this?



  • Gavin
    2016-09-15 05:17:30 UTC - 05:17 | Permalink

    This kind of analysis has often been dismissed by linguists as something akin to “paralellomania”; I daresay it will again here.

    • Gavin
      2016-09-15 07:29:21 UTC - 07:29 | Permalink

      Not to say it’s unreasonable – the Nostratic hypothesis (which I like) might account for it; along with various onomatopoetic ideas; but we’re at a most abstract level here.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2016-09-15 10:46:30 UTC - 10:46 | Permalink

        I’d love to follow it up in more depth if I had no other interests taking up my energies. I’m waiting to see what other related and follow-up research has to say, and of course analyses of the methods used in this study.

  • Aleph
    2016-09-29 23:43:17 UTC - 23:43 | Permalink

    Hey Neil, huge fan of the blog here! Please keep up the great work.

    I was just wondering if there was a recent study supporting Universal Grammar you had in mind, or if the last line of your entry was meant as a more general reference to the theories of Chomsky and others.

    Thanks again!

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-09-30 05:22:03 UTC - 05:22 | Permalink

      Very general. I have not had opportunities to delve into the debates myself. I rely entirely upon what I hear among linguists themselves – or at least that very small subsection of the community I have contacted and the few I have read about.

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