Universals of conversation

November 8, 2013 10:35 PM

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Universals of conversation

A word like 'Huh?' —used when one has not caught what someone just said—appears to be universal: it is found to have very similar form and function in languages across the globe. This is one of the findings of a major cross-linguistic study by researchers Mark Dingemanse, Francisco Torreira and Nick Enfield, at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

It might seem frivolous to carry out scientific research on a word like 'Huh?' But in fact this little word is an indispensable tool in human communication. Without words like this we would be unable to signal when we have problems with hearing or understanding what was said, and our conversations w...

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