It is often said that French is soft, German is brutal, Italian is sexy and Mandarin is aggressive. But are these stereotypes the same in all cultures? Is there an inherently beautiful language?
To find out, researchers from Lund University in Sweden and the Russian Academy of Sciences brought together 820 participants of different nationalities to listen to 50 randomly selected recordings from 228 languages. To conduct their study, the researchers used audio files from the film “Jesus,” which has been translated into more than 2,000 languages and is often used in linguistic studies.
After listening to the recordings, participants were asked if they recognized the language and how much they liked it, on a scale ranging from “not at all” to “a lot”. According to the results, participants gave a 12.2% higher rating to languages they recognized, even if they misidentified them — a strong “familiarity effect” the researchers expected.
But how did the participants rate the languages they did not recognize? “There were insignificant differences between regions of the world when language was not recognized,” say the authors of the study, published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Thus, the authors suggest that “languages spoken in different parts of the world are not inherently beautiful or unpleasant, regardless of how the listeners speak”.
Ignoring the familiarity effect, the vast majority of languages scored enjoyment with differences of 2% to 3% between them. However, some languages stood out – for better and for worse.
The most pleasant language in the world is Tok Pisin, an English-derived creole with strong influence from Austronesian languages, spoken in Papua New Guinea by millions of people. It is used to facilitate communication between the more than 800 different linguistic groups present in the country, and its name means “spoken language”, “tok” being the expression for “to speak” and “pisin” a simplified form of the word ” business” in English.
Six percentage points below Tok Pisin, at the bottom of the list, the unenviable title of “world’s least pleasant language” goes to Chechen, spoken by an estimated 1.7 million people in the North Caucasus. Eastern Europe.
The study also reveals a slight preference for non-tonal languages. In tonal languages, changing the tone of a spoken word changes its meaning.
Also, if the sound was that of a male voice, the associated language scored on average 4 percentage points less. In contrast, the language spoken by a “whispering female voice” was considered much more pleasant.
But the study concludes above all that the beauty of a language is probably not intrinsic, but resides in the ear of the listener. So the next time you hear a foreign language, remember that its beauty may simply depend on your familiarity with it.