Linguistic and cultural knowledge affect whether languages are identified correctly

April 5, 2017
Neighbor-Net of confusion of the languages in the GLG. Credit: Skirgård et al (2017)

A popular online game shows how linguistic and cultural knowledge may affect whether players can correctly identify different languages, according to a study published April 5, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Hedvig Skirgård from the Australian National University, Australia and colleagues.

The Great Language Game is a large-scale online game where players listen to an audio speech sample and guess which language that they think they're hearing, selecting from two or more options. Skirgård and analyzed the data from this game - data from nearly one million participants - to determine which languages were often confused for others, and whether they could find any patterns that would help predict confusion or accuracy when identifying a language.

The researchers found that participants were better able to distinguish between languages that were geographically further apart and had different associated sounds. The researchers also found that cultural factors influenced whether a language was identified correctly. If the language was the official in more countries, had a name associated with its , and was spoken by many people, then it would be more likely to be identified correctly.

While the current game only contains 78 languages, and mostly from European countries, it does provide insight into why some languages might be confused for others. In their future research, Skirgård and colleagues hope to expand their analysis to lesser-known languages.

Explore further: How languages shape economics

More information: Skirgård H, Roberts SG, Yencken L (2017) Why are some languages confused for others? Investigating data from the Great Language Game. PLoS ONE 12(4): e0165934. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0165934

Related Stories

How languages shape economics

February 10, 2017

Half of the world's population is bilingual or multilingual, with over 6,000 different languages spoken in the world today. But language is much more than just communication. As well as expressing cultural identity, language ...

Language by mouth and by hand

April 3, 2013

Humans favor speech as the primary means of linguistic communication. Spoken languages are so common many think language and speech are one and the same. But the prevalence of sign languages suggests otherwise. Not only can ...

Recommended for you

The mathematics of golf

August 16, 2017

(—The official Rules of Golf, which are continually being revised and updated as new equipment emerges, have close ties to mathematics. In many cases, math is used to place limitations on golf equipment, such as ...

Study identifies dinosaur 'missing link'

August 15, 2017

A bizarre dinosaur which looked like a raptor but was in fact a vegetarian may be the 'missing link' between plant-eating dinosaurs and theropods, the group that includes carnivores such as Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor.

Unique imaging of a dinosaur's skull tells evolutionary tale

August 15, 2017

Researchers using Los Alamos' unique neutron-imaging and high-energy X-ray capabilities have exposed the inner structures of the fossil skull of a 74-million-year-old tyrannosauroid dinosaur nicknamed the Bisti Beast in the ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.