English scores the No. 33 spot on the weirdness scale


There are a lot of weird languages in the world. Some have clicking noises. Some have throat-clucking noises. Some have no way of forming questions other than a Valley girl upward lilt at the end of the sentence.

Some have a whole letter for the sound your breath makes when you blow on glass to write your initials in the condensation.

That’s a lot of weirdness. So, it’s a big deal that, according to a group of linguists who set out to rank 239 languages by how weird they are, English scored the No. 33 spot.

Obviously, there was some whimsy to their science. For one thing, 239 languages make up only a small fraction of the 7,000 or so out there (depending on who’s counting).

Plus, “weirdness” isn’t exactly a scientific concept. Researchers have yet to invent a weird-o-meter. But the linguists’ findings nonetheless shed some light on languages, in general, and our own in particular.

How, exactly, do you scientifically determine whether a language is “weird.” Well, you don’t, obviously, because the idea is so vague and subjective. But you can do what the folks at the blog Corpus Linguistics did. You can look at the parts of a language and how they work together and compare these features to other languages to see which ones follow common patterns and which don’t.

Here's my recent column on some of their most interesting observations.


Tags: ,