Olga Khazan reports that researchers at the Max Planck Institute in the Netherlands have recently argued that “Huh?” may be one of the few universal words:
Most languages sound dramatically different from each other because words aren’t tied to what they stand for—dog and chien both represent a four-legged canine, for example—and each language is basically limited to a finite number of possible sound combinations.
“The likelihood that there are universal words is extremely small,” the authors write. “But in this study we present a striking exception to this otherwise robust rule.”
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“’Huh?’ may be a non-prototypical word, but it is a word,” they wrote. After all, it requires being spelled and conforms to the general principles of each language.