Bahador Alast.

John Cowan writes:

This is a YouTube channel that I’ve been listening to, moderated by Bahador Alast. He gets together two or more people who speak different languages or dialects and has each of them read out words, sentences (sometimes made-up sentences, sometimes literary, sometimes traditional proverbs), or whole paragraphs to see how much the others understand. None of the participants are linguists; they are mostly college students in various subjects. They giggle charmingly a lot.

Sometimes the languages are related genetically (German/Swedish), sometimes the similarities are due to borrowing (Turkish/French), and sometimes both (Romanian/Italian); some are sheer coincidence (Japanese/Kannada/Tamil). Of the “borrowing” pairs, some are shallow like Spanish/Filipino and others are deep like Hindi/Filipino (old Sanskrit borrowings). Usually the interchange is symmetrical: the German-speaker is asked to decipher Yiddish and vice versa, but sometimes it’s asymmetrical: the Norwegian is asked to figure out Icelandic, but it’s plain that the Icelander already understands Norwegian.

A few of the videos are different: there is one in which a couple of Greeks are asked to understand some Aristotle, Plato, and Homer, and another in which a Turk and a Türkmen are given some Old Turkic of various ages to figure out. In all cases modern pronunciation is used.

Bahador is particularly good at digging up speakers of lesser-known languages such as Arbëreshë Albanian (there is a funny bit in this one where the Balkan Albanian says “So your people changed your name to Arbëresh?” and the Italo-Albanian replies, “No, before Skanderbeg’s time all Shqiptar called themselves Arbëresh!”), Neo-Aramaic, Balochi, etc. Each video is 15-30 minutes long, and they are a good distraction for me from my ongoing situation. You only need English to follow what’s going on, and I think the Hattics will enjoy them.

Definite LH material — thanks, JC!


  1. Then there’s also Ecolinguist, which has similar sorts of videos.

  2. Yes, I posted an Ecolinguist video last year, but thanks for the useful reminder.

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    It would be nice to see more African ones, but the Oromo/Somali one is very interesting.
    In the Swahili/Arabic the Swahili speakers have been primed to pick Arabic-origin words, of course (and the bloke on the right knows some actual Arabic …) Interesting, though.

    I had a Hausa-speaking colleague who went on training in Tanzania, and was surprised at how much Swahili vocabulary he recognised; he actually hadn’t made the connection that these were all loans from Arabic, despite his own Muslim background. (Normal people don’t think about things like that, fellow-Hatters.)

  4. I just saw a [terrifying] title “The Roma and Oromo Peoples’ Languages and Tradition: False friends or genetic-historical friends?” in “related” to Rilly’s paper about Meroitic…

    Normal people don’t think about things like that, fellow-Hatters. – I am a bit surprised, because foreign words can be obviously foreign….Even for normal people.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    In defence of my (highly intelligent and impressively polyglot) colleague, Arabic loans in Hausa are probably rather less obviously foreign than in Swahili, partly because there are so many of them. It would be like an English speaker being unhesitatingly able to tell that “very”, “chase” and “people” were loans from French.

  6. It would be nice to see more African ones

    There are two videos with Berber varieties.

    Roma and Oromo [as] genetic-historical friends?

    Aesir and Uyghur as cognates?.

  7. Make that three videos with Berber varieties.

  8. I listened to the Irish–Manx one when we discussed Manx, but since neither is a native L1 speaker it was a bit of a wash out

  9. The Armenian Dialects video also has an unusual format: two speakers of Yerevan Armenian watch a series of clips of people telling “The Three Little Pigs” in several Armenian varieties, from Karabakh in the extreme East to California in the extreme West. One has the job of identifying the variety (which he succeeds at in every case, although he labels the Lebanese one as “Lebanese or Syrian”) and the other knows the correct answers but can’t tell one from another and can’t understand any of the Western (mostly diaspora) Armenians. The Californian is reading a Standard Armenian version from a book, so he is speaking Eastern despite being in the West; in addition, one of the Western varieties comes from Armenia itself, but right near the Turkish border.

    I also just finished listening to the Georgian/Persian video. Per Bahador’s notes, some of the Persian words in Georgian (not necessarily the ones in the video) go back to Achaemenid times. For once I was able to guess a word: Persian jadoo ‘magic > Georgian, but also Persian > Urdu > Indian English; Kipling uses it, and there is an Australian journal of private conlangs called Taboo Jadoo.

  10. John Cowan says

    Another oddity is the Turkish/Azerbaijani pair. Because the languages are very close, the Azerbaijani-speaker (who also speaks Turkish) has chosen some sentences containing false friends, based on his and his friends’ actual experiences while living in Turkey. For example, Saxla, düşürəm means ‘Stop, I am getting off’ in Azerbaijani, but would be understood by a Turkish-speaking bus driver as Saklan, düşüyorum ‘Hide, I am falling’.

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