Another Language Challenge.

Norbert Wierzbicki has posted another Guess The Language Challenge video; this one features Julie Maksimova, a Latvian language lover. She was very good (if perhaps excessively tentative) and got all the answers right, and this time he shows the texts in written form afterwards, which is great. I got all the answers right (large Cup of Satisfaction!); I got 1, 2, 3, and 6 easily, 4 with the help of the map Julie requested, and 5 only by the same kind of desperate guessing she used. These things are tremendous fun, and if you enjoyed the last one you will certainly like this. After people have had a chance to watch it and make their own guesses, I will add an interesting fact about one of the words he mentions from the first language.


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    1, 2 dead easy, lulling me into a sense of false security.
    3 a giveaway when you see the script.
    Misread the map for 4 (for shame!) and picked the wrong one of the pair for 5 …
    6 easy given the (very big) hint … (wouldn’t have got it otherwise.)

  2. Well, nobody else seems interested in this Challenge, so I’ll go ahead and post the interesting fact: sauna goes back to “Proto-Finnic *sakna, which is borrowed from early Proto-Germanic *stakna- (later *stakkaz, whence English stack).” I had no idea.

  3. It’s difficult to discuss the questions without giving out massive spoilers. I’ve watched all the three challenges, although #1 quickly became cringeworthy and I tried to fast-forward when possible.

  4. Oh, by now you might as well discuss freely. I’ll issue a warning:


  5. I’ll get the spoilage started: for #3 I not only knew it was Vietnamese, I recognized it as the northern variety.

  6. I liked the video a lot and I hope Wierzbicki makes more episodes. My score below, with a spoiler alert:

    1. I guessed its sister language from accross the gulf.
    2: This is my native language. The person in the sound clip speaks a bit unnatural. We don’t pronounce the final n in the full verb, except in some dialects.
    3: Correct
    4: Correct family but I needed the map to pinpoint the exact member
    5 and 6: I had no idea.

  7. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I sort of got them all (with a lot of guessing), except for the last, for which I had no idea. (If he’d shown the script I’d have got it immediately, but that would have been too easy.) For the first I thought of Hungarian, though it didn’t sound all that much like the Hungarian I’ve heard (much more than Finnish, and much much more than Estonian). As she is Latvian I was surprised at her comment about Estonian, just next door to Latvia. She must hear Estonian often. When I was in Latvia two years ago (possibly the last time I shall ever give a talk at an international meeting) I wasn’t able to form a clear impression of what Latvian sounded like, other than being impossible to confuse with Russian. Most of the taxi drivers in Riga seemed to be Russian and they were very easily recognizable without looking at the notices with their names.

    I also liked her comment about Kazakh and Uzbek: Turkic languages spoken with a Russian accent.

  8. 1. Once you’ve heard Finnish, you won’t forget the way it sounds.
    2. It wasn’t typical Dutch to my ears but close enough. (A rare dialect called Double Dutch perhaps.)
    3. By accident, I glimpsed “Vietnamese” in the comments. That helped a lot. Amazing tones!
    4. Unmistakably Turkic but which one? I must have heard a lot of Uzbek over the decades but I was lost. Luckily, I know where Uzbekistan is on the map – it’s a doubly landlocked country, by the way.
    5. I suspected Slovak from the start.
    6. Again, this is a language I should have heard more than once, but… A near-giveaway was an initial consonant cluster. And the lack of capitals, of course. Some time in the 1990s, a Russian paper published translations of Stalin’s letters to his mother. My friend remarked the translator had touchingly capitalized “мама” in Russian but it wouldn’t have been possible in Georgian.

  9. If he’d shown the script I’d have got it immediately

    One thing these challenges bring home to me forcibly is the vast difference between knowing a language on sight and being able to recognize it when spoken. I’d have known written Tamil instantly, but I was at sea hearing it.

  10. David Marjanović says

    early Proto-Germanic *stakna- (later *stakkaz, whence English stack)

    Better living through Kluge’s law! Only recognized in the mainstream since about 2010.

  11. I had no idea.

    Indeed a recent etymology, and besides Kluge’s Law you might also need to know the minor southeastern Finnish dialect forms sakna, saakna and South Estonian sann, which reveal that forms like Ingrian and Karelian sauna, šauna, saunu must be actually loans from Finnish despite looking like evidence for an original Proto-Finnic *au.

    I looked thru too many comments here to have a honest shot at the original challenge but yeah this stuff is a very good indication of the difficulty difference between identifying spoken vs. written languages. Telling e.g. various Slavic languages apart is much easier orthographically really.

    (Incidentally if anyone wants to try written language identification on Hᴀʀᴅ Mᴏᴅᴇ, try the ZBB topic on this.)

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