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
    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
      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.