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The 10 most obscure languages in the world

According to Ethnologue, a linguistic resource which lists every recognised language, there are 7,099 languages spoken today. This number, however, is constantly changing as linguists learn more about languages and as some, unfortunately, die out. It is mind-blowing to think that there are so many languages when 86% of the world’s population speak an Asian or European language. Some countries have hundreds of languages. At TranslateMyCert we would like to explore the world’s ten most unusual languages.

1. Silbo Gomero

The Silbo language is spoken on the island of Gomera off the coast of Spain. It is an incredibly unique language because it has no verbs or nouns. In fact, it does not even have spoken words. It is a language that consists of whistling. Gomera is a very mountainous region, so whistling is an effective way to communicate over large distances. A fall and rise in the pitch of the whistle creates words and sentences.

2. Xhosa

Xhosa is a fascinating language that is spoken by around 8 million people in South Africa. 8 million may seem like a high number but, in global terms, it is a relatively small number. The most famous native speaker of Xhosa was Nelson Mandela. Xhosa consists of different clicks and tones. There is a different click sound for the letters ‘c’, ‘x’ and ‘q’, and even these click sounds can vary. Tone is hugely important, too, and can change the meaning of a word completely.

3. Archi

Archi is spoken by an estimated 1,200 people, significantly fewer people than Xhosa. It is spoken in a small village in Southern Russia called Archib. What makes Archi so distinctive is that its verbs can be conjugated in up to 1.5 million ways! For example, in English, we can conjugate the verb “to play” as “played”, “playing”, “have played”, “was playing”, “will play”, etc., but not in up to 1.5 million different conjugations!

4. Sentinelese

This language is spoken by tribal people in North Sentinel Island, a small island in the Indian Ocean. Sentinelese truly is obscure because, aside from the islanders, no-one knows anything about this language. North Sentinel Island is one of the very few places on this earth that explorers have not visited. This is because the island’s residents will shoot arrows to prevent outsiders from entering the island.

5. Rotokas

Rotokas is considered to be the simplest of known languages. Its alphabet only has approximately 12 letters. It is spoken in a region of Papua New Guinea. Rotokas does not have any nasal sounds (like the sound in the English letter “n”), although native speakers can make that sound when they mock foreigners who attempt to speak Rotokas! Have you tried to speak without making a nasal sound? It is incredibly difficult.

6. Michif

Spoken in some regions of Canada and in a few areas of North Dakota in the United States, Michif is the language spoken by the Metis people, who are descendants of the European fur traders. It is a mixture of the Native American language Cree and French. It is a very unique and difficult language, with nouns in French and verbs in Cree.

7. Koro

Koro is spoken by around 800 speakers in north-east India. Koro is very different from the other languages related to it. In fact, the distinctions between Koro and its neighbouring languages are like those between Greek and Vietnamese. Researchers think that the language may have originated by slaves who were in the area. If this language were to become extinct, the people would lose a key part of their heritage.

8. Pirahã

Thought to be the easiest language in the world, Pirahã has only seven consonants and three vowels, although women use one less consonant. Pirahã is spoken by fewer than 400 people in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. There are no set words for numbers and colours, and the language is mainly based on concepts. For example, instead of saying that something is green, speakers would say something like, “it looks like grass.” Interestingly, Pirahã is a language of the present. If the people cannot see something then it does not exist.

9. Pawnee

Unfortunately, the Pawnee language spoken by some Native Americans is dying out. Pawnee’s alphabet is simple but it has many words that have 30 syllables or more. It is common for a sentence to have at least one word with over ten syllables in it. Thankfully, teaching materials have been developed in an effort to preserve this unusual language.

10. Taa

Like Xhosa, Taa is an African click language. As far as researchers are aware, Taa has more spoken phonemes (sounds) than any other language in the world. Linguists believe that one dialect of Taa alone has 164 consonants, of which at least 111 are click sounds!

Although we may not be able to translate these languages, at TranslateMyCert we can translate over twenty different languages ranging from Arabic to French to Hungarian to Japanese. We have a large network of translators and endeavour to provide translators for all the language requests we receive. So, please do not hesitate to upload your document(s) and we will do the rest.