Guess The Language.

Another language quiz, this time thanks to Norbert Wierzbicki, who posts Guess The Language Challenge videos to YouTube; this one is twenty minutes long and features Raphael Turrigiano, an American studying linguistics in Scotland. Raphael was great, guessing all six (twice with the help of clues) and winning the large Cup of Satisfaction. Me, I got four of the six (thus winning the small Cup of Satisfaction) — 1 and 4 instantly, 6 by the end of the sample, and 3 with the help of the “fact” (which is how Raphael got it as well); for 5 I was close but no cigar, and with 2 I hadn’t a clue (which was kind of embarrassing once I heard the answer; I would have gotten it in written form, but clearly I’ve never heard it spoken). It’s a great quiz, in that the languages are all fair game (no obscure little languages) and the samples are long enough to give you a fighting chance; if this is the kind of thing you like, you will definitely like it. A tip of the Language Hat to villanousbead, who posted it at


  1. David Eddyshaw says


    Missed Tamil; actually recognised Irish and Danish; was tipped off to Tagalog by hearing “Manila” in the sample; like RT, I can’t tell Xhosa from Zulu but got it from the hint; wouldn’t have recognised Guaraní, but the hint basically gave away the answer.

  2. This is Guess a Language #2, and the contrast with Guess a Language #1 is striking.

    Firstly, GaL#2 embarrassed me by how little I knew compared to the man in the hot seat; whereas GaL#1 embarrassed me by how little the man in the hot seat knew compared to me. Where did they get him from?

    Secondly, I found GaL#2 really difficult, scoring 2 out of 6; whereas in GaL#1 I aced all six (with the help of the hints).

    So if GaL#2 made you feel ignorant, check out GaL#1 for an ego boost!

    By the way, I noticed that all the GaL#1 extracts appear to be translations of the same text. Is this the case for GaL#2 as well? And if so, is the apparent “Manila” in the Tagalog sample sheer coincidence?


    Big Cup of Satisfaction for me, but the first two were very much best guesses. Danish was completely mysterious till about halfway in, when I started getting the Scandinavian vibes. BTW the ‘Manila’ thing at the end of the Tagalog is apparently a happy coincidence -the transcription says that it is actually ‘kaalaman nila’ (‘their knowledge’, according to GT).

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    Bah! As an honourable man, I must now deduct a point from myself. Curses!

  5. Hmm, I should probably deduct half a point from myself too then (not honourable enough for a full point) -I think I would have gone for it, with the Spanish words providing a big clue, but ‘Manila’ sealed the deal for me too, and I just moved on once I heard that.

  6. David L. Gold says

    “the transcription says that it is actually ‘kaalaman nila’ (‘their knowledge’, according to GT).”

    Does the speaker really say man nila? (I have in mind the first vowel).

    I heard a falling diphthong in the first syllable and therefore took those three syllables to be Maynila = the name of the capital in Pilipino, Tagalog, and probably at least a few other languages of the country (except Spanish).

    Therefore, whether one mishears Maynila as Manila or one mishears something else as Manila or one rightly hears Maynila as Maynila, one has a clue to the identity of the language.

  7. David L. Gold says

    P. S. The fourth possibility (which may be my case): or one mishears Kaalaman nila as containing Maynila.

  8. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    A very good quiz, with, as you say, no very obscure languages. I got Tagalog fairly easily, and Guaraní (cheating a bit, because with creeping senility I couldn’t think of its name, but I felt sure it was Paraguayan), Zulu, sort of with the help of the map (I think Xhosa is spoken over a wider area). Irish not at all. When he said it was Celtic I thought well, it’s definitely not Welsh, but beyond that no idea. Tamil I had no idea. As for Danish, I’m embarrassed to say that I guessed Norwegian (I felt sure it wasn’t Swedish).

  9. ‘You have failed. Pass the challenge again in the ‘easy’ mode to return to ‘normal’ mode. Guess the language family. All languages will be limited to one island of New Guinea”

  10. Speaking seriously, I listened to it after reading spoilers, and I think I would have guessed G. It is not by chance: I know almost nothing about the langauges ofthe region, but G. is an exception, I know something about it. The player likely knows much more than me. I. goes without saying, but I am not sure I would have guessed anything else (maybe /m…a/ would have made me want to say it?)

  11. There’s also GaL#3 online, with a Latvian-Russian girl who guessed all of them. Admittedly, her task was easier than the linguist’s on GaL#2 – easier, that is, if the contestant grew up in Eastern Europe or in the former USSR.

  12. I lucked out with this one.

    1. Recognized instantly. My brother’s wife’s family speaks this language and my nieces are bilingual in English and this language.
    2. Recognized instantly. I met lots of people from this part of the world during the many, many years that I lived in university dormitories, so I recognized the inventory of sounds particular to that language among the other languages of its region.
    3. Recognized instantly. My dormmate and best friend during my first year in grad school grew up fluent in Hokkien, Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese, and this language—her immigrant parents owned a shop in a border town. She wasn’t studying linguistics, though, but computer science. I still remember some phrases in this language that she taught me.
    4. One of my favorite languages. Tried to speak every day with a dormmate one year.
    5. Again, from dormmates, I immediately suspected it was one of the two languages discussed. (I knew it wasn’t Ndebele, because that was the subject of a field methods course I sat in on one year in my department.) The map clinched it.
    6. Recognized instantly from travel and a dormmate.

    So many benefits flow from to getting to know your dormmates.

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