Translation Musings: How do you mend a broken… conversation

Nov 22, 2013 | Language


Well, exactly. Huh is the glue to the broken conversation and is, it appears, a common bond (see what I did there?) across vast areas of the world.

A recent study, conducted across five continents, found that this innocent little word, or at least something that sounds similar enough to be understood, can be found all over the globe; in fact in almost every language studied. It shows, the researchers add, a remarkable case of convergent evolution*.


Put simply, huh is a quick and easy way to show you’re not quite there in the conversation. You need more information, and that enables the conversation, with luck, to be fixed and to carry on its merry way. Without this unassuming little filler, it could grind to a halt; never to be resumed again. Or, even worse, carry on with total and complete misunderstanding on both sides… Although, where would the world of sitcoms be without that hilarious possibility?!

* Convergent evolution: the independent evolution of similar features in species of different lineages (Wikipedia…)

Sources: Los Angeles Times and PLOS ONE