It’s hard to believe, but there are nearly 7,000 languages currently spoken around the world. While many of us are lucky if we master one or two, with an abundance of variance in grammar, pronunciation, and sentence structure, it can be a challenge to learn any new language. Here are some of the rarest, complicated, and downright fascinating of the bunch.
Chalcatongo Mixtec is a dialect spoken by less than 6,000 people in Oaxaca, Mexico, making it one of the rarest languages in the world. But what makes it truly unique is that there is no linguistic way to determine if a sentence is a question or statement. In other words, phrases like “You are alright,” and “Are you alright?” sound the same. We imagine this could lead to a ton of confusion, especially for a non-native speakers.
Pitjantjatjara is an aboriginal dialect of the Western Desert language spoken in central Australia. However, what sets it apart from other dialects is the written version of the language. Instead of using accents or apostrophes, Pitjantjatjara uses colons and underlining to denote emphasis in pronunciation. It has a visual look on its own that gives the language a dynamic flair on the page, unlike most others out there.
Archi is spoken by less than 1,000 people. Most of them live in communities along the Risor river near Dagestan, Russia, making it one of the rarest languages in the world. But in addition to being an uncommon language, it’s also an extremely complicated one. Archi has one of the most complex grammatical structures in the world; there are over 1.5 million ways to conjugate verbs. For comparison, English has only a dozen major verb tenses.
Spoken in the Eastern Amazon, Tuyuca has many fascinating linguistic quirks that set it apart from other languages. In fact, an article in the Economist declared it one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. First of all, it’s very agglutinating, which means one word alone can often act as an entire sentence. But there’s a whole other level of complexity with verb endings that affix meaning on the truth of a sentence. As the Economist points out, “‘Diga ape-wi’ means ‘the boy played soccer (I know because I saw him),’ while ‘diga ape-hiyi’ means ‘the boy played soccer (I assume).’”
South Africa has 11 national languages, with Xhosa being the most unique. Like many African Bantu languages, Xhosa contains consistent clicking in its pronunciation. However, the linguistic sound is so prominent in Xhosa that over 10% of the language’s vocabulary contains the sound, which means it’s possible for an entire sentence to be communicated via verbal clicks.
Silbo Gomero is unlike any other language in the world, as it’s spoken entirely through a series of whistles. Varying in tone and pitch, these whistles serve a practical purpose to the people of the island of Gomero, located in the Canary Islands. Created by cupping hands around the mouth in various ways, the whistles can be heard over eight miles away. This technique is helpful to communicate with people traversing ravines and gorges that are commonly found along the island’s landscape.
One of the newer languages on this list, Esperanto was created in 1887 by Polish writer L.L. Zamenhof. Zamenhof wanted to invent a lingua franca — a language that could be commonly understood by a diverse group of people internationally. By combining aspects of English, Spanish, Polish, French, and German, he succeeded in inventing a wholly unusual tongue. It’s now estimated to be spoken by nearly 100,000 people worldwide and has grown in popularity with the advent of the internet, making it one of the few languages on this list that you can learn through Duolingo.
For one of the most commonly-spoken languages in the world, English happens to be one of the hardest to learn. With an abundance of silent letters, unique spellings, and rules that are often broken, English is trickier than most native speakers realize. Think about it: Words that look remarkably similar like “tough,” “through” “bough,” and “dough” sound nothing alike, making it dazzlingly difficult to read, speak, and learn.
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