Language is one of the most effective and useful tools that humans possess. Learning a language helps us to communicate and connect with others, giving us the chance to express ourselves, work together and form relationships. Essentially, language is all about communication. Here we unveil some of the more peculiar languages still spoken in the world today, with words and grammar that would baffle the untrained mind and ear.
On the verge of extinction, the Pawnee tongue is a dialect of Native American Indians who reside in the Nebraska area. Almost all of the Pawnee children now just learn English as their first language, shunning the Pawnee language; it is mainly the Chiefs and Elders of the tribe who still use this unique language. The Pawnee alphabet is one of the easiest to grasp, with 8 vowels and only 9 consonants. The extent to which these words are used is truly remarkable; each word spoken in Pawnee has at least 10 syllables. Some of the consonants are pronounced in a similar way to English, although the vowel sounds are much more akin to French, with long sounds that can be raised or lowered in tone to convey a different meaning.
Xhosa is another strange yet beautiful language spoken in the southern regions of Africa. There are many millions of people who speak it in some variety, but the defining trait of this language is actually short and rapid clicks produced by smacking the tongue from the roof of the mouth. For most of us, this action has to be done consciously, moving the tongue up and down, but for this Bantu language the speakers are automatically using the sound to convey words. Eighteen consonants in the Xhosa language consist of these clicking sounds, making it one of the most fascinating languages to speak.
More of a collection of notes and pitches than an actual language, the Silbo language is still in active use on the beautiful Spanish island of La Gomera, off the African coast. First of all, there are no actual words. La Gomera is volcanic and mountainous, and for that reason the locals developed a wonderful method of communicating. The language was borne out of necessity; the sheep and goat herds were on opposite sides of the mountain and shepherds needed to speak to each other. The valleys would have a reverse echoing effect, drowning out any speech under a certain pitch. What the islanders did find, though, helped them enormously – a simple whistling sound produced by manipulating the lips and tongue to make the sound carry back and forth from the hillsides. This enabled shepherds to create a code which was common to all on the Island: short, long, low and high pitches are used together to ‘speak to’, or rather communicate with each other. The whistling can still be heard today across La Gomera, although it would be easy to mistake the speech of the inhabitants with the twitter of the birds.