One Word That’s The Same in Every Language

The word ‘huh’ will unite the world

According to Mark Dingemanse and his colleagues, ‘huh’ is a word that is actually native to all languages. Their fascinating in-depth article talks about the word ‘huh’ as in “Huh?”, or to put it another way “What did you say?” It is claimed that this universal word occurs in a large sample of unrelated languages.

Why “huh”? Based on our previous article on ‘The Root of All Human Languages’, we showed that some languages share the same words within a particular family tree. However, for the most part different languages will have a completely different sound for the same word. (‘dog’: inu in Japanese, chien in French) There is no connection between sound and meaning in words. ‘Huh?’ is a rare exception to this otherwise strong rule.

Here is a sample from the article. Question words (“what?”) and interjections (“huh?”) being roughly the same form in eleven languages: English hã↗



Some points of interest:

  • While there were subtle differences in each country, all had a near-identical sound.
  • Some languages, like English, use rising intonation, whereas others, like Icelandic, use falling.
  • “huh?” Is short, easy to produce, easy to hear, and capable of carrying a questioning tone.
  • The sound is calibrated to the local language system, therefore it’s actually a word rather than just a grunt.
  • It requires being spelled and conforms to the general principles of each language.
  • Although it may seem almost primitive in its simplicity, it still has to be learnt. In fact, it takes children until the age of five to master its use.

It is ironic how the only word that everyone understands, is the word that means you don’t understand.

In Singlish we can write “huh” as ‘ar’ or ‘ah’.

Singapore Has Expanded the Use of ‘Huh’

When time is really limited, please use “ah”. The Versatility of the ‘ah’ sound with the help of intonations.
N.B: ‘ah’ is also inserted between topic and comment to give a negative tone:
“This minion ah, always so naughty one!”



Source article:

Is “Huh?” a Universal Word? Conversational Infrastructure and the Convergent Evolution of Linguistic Items

Frequently Asked Questions: 


1 Comment

  1. Erik Berger02/03/2024

    Interesting, but I wouldn’t agree as far as Swedish is concerned, other than an occasional “huh” being the result of modern anglicism.


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