Related to the question about whether facial expressions are universal.

Are there words/verbal expressions/sounds that exist in every language and have the same meaning in every language?

(I’d also count words that are very similar.)

One example, that I believe is universal is M followed by a vowel followed by another M and optionally another vowel, meaning “Mother”.

At least in any language I know, this seems to hold true (mom, Mama, mamma, Mami, …).

Any other examples?

Edit: To clarify, I am not looking for very popular words that have been imported into most languages (like how almost everyone worldwide knows what Ketchup is), but about words that are “native” to humans. So if you pick someone from an uncontacted native tribe and tell them nothing, they would be able to understand/use that word/sound/verbal expression.

  • @FearTheCron
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    48 months ago

    How common are things like the bouba/kiki effect in linguistics? It seems there are some sounds that are based on something other than learned behavior, how much does this cause commonality in real language?

    • @theRealBassist
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      28 months ago

      Hi! Sorry for the delay, took a break from social media.

      It’s often an effect of local convergent evolution, effectively.

      Like if the group next to you has certain associations, well you’re likely to have similar associations. It’s also hard to verify some of that research due to the nature of how it’s conducted.

      • @FearTheCron
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        18 months ago

        No worries, thanks for the response!

        Interesting answer, scanning through the Wikipedia article on kiki/bouba it makes sense that we don’t really have solid evidence that it isn’t a learned trait. It may be hard to get a population of people who developed language independently of all other humans ever and see if they maintain the strong correlation with naming kiki and bouba.

        So I guess that brings up another question I have kinda wondered about. What is the most “isolated” spoken language on the planet? By that, I mean the language that evolved most independently of other spoken languages. Is there anything interesting that can be learned by comparing such a language to the European languages that are dominant among the global population?

        • @theRealBassist
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          28 months ago

          Great question! Here’s the thing though, the language had to come from somewhere right? The people had to come from somewhere.

          The assumptions and associations that make up the basis of language are thousands of years old. Obviously languages change and societies change, but no one has ever protested about the “k” sound being too “harsh” or something, or at least not seriously.

          Even an extremely isolated population would likely still be heavily influenced by whatever the parent language is.