One of the best things about travel is the amazing range of languages that you will encounter. Some of these might sound familiar – like deja vu in French, or alfresco in Italian. But there are so many rare and unusual languages around the world, some of which are now spoken by less than a hundred people. These are like nothing you’ve ever heard.
This is a whistling language from the Canary Islands, designed to be used to communicate across the vast valleys. Its small range of vowels and consonants are replaced by whistles of different pitch and length. The language was used by the original inhabitants of the island, the Guanche, and then adapted by the Spanish settlement in the sixteenth century. The use of this language declined in the 1950s, but there have been recent efforts to revive it.
Deep in the Amazon rainforest, the Pirahã people speak this rare dialect, the only surviving example of Muran language. It is one of the simplest languages in the world, with only seven consonants and three vowels. It is especially unusual as there are no words for numbers or colours.
As one of the eleven official languages of South Africa, Xhosa has over seven million native speakers and includes several dialects. It is especially unusual to the ear as it is a clicking language, made up of sounds produced by different types of tongue-clicking. It is a tonal language, so the same sequence can change meanings depending on whether it is spoken with a high or low tone.
Native to Colombia, Tuyuca is a polysynthetic language. This means that they combine a string of words together into one long word that can convey a whole idea. It also has over 100 noun classes, unlike our three in English – he, she and it.
Pawnee is a Caddoan language spoken by a small number of Native Americans in Oklahoma. Its words can be so complex that they might contain more than 30 syllables.
This is an indigenous language of Southern Russia, and is incredibly complex. There are four noun classes and astonishingly it has 1,502,839 verb endings (we only have three in English!)
Frisian is a West German language spoken in the northern region of Friesland in the Netherlands. It has eight interchangeable dialects, the rarest of which is Skiermûntseagersk, which comes from a small island, and less than a hundred people can now speak it.
If you’re planning a trip soon and are worried about how you’ll manage visiting a non-English-speaking country, check out this guide for travelling in a country where you don’t speak the language. And be sure to make sure you have the right international travel insurance for whichever amazing part of the world you’ll be visiting to discover these and other incredible cultures.