Paul Baptist (kaji_sensei) wrote in linguaphiles,
Paul Baptist

Identifying unknown languages

The recent posting about the obscure text on the whiteboard kind of got me wondering, what features do you look for when trying to whittle down what language something is when you can't put your finger on it exactly? In broad ways I guess writing systems can be a good indication, but when it comes to trying to narrow things down within a subset (say, languages that use Arabic script), I imagine it's quite a task.

Likewise, what strategies do you employ in identifying languages when hearing people speak? I'll admit that even though I know enough Vietnamese, Mandarin, and Cantonese to pick out words in them now and then, when I'm out and about San Jose and hear people chatting away I often have trouble telling them apart (though if I suspect it's Vietnamese I'll usually try to pick out "roi" or "không" as a definite way to ID it). When it comes to Romance languages I'm dead stuck, can't tell Italian from French from Portuguese, etc.

Sorry if this post seems unfocused; had a clear idea in my head when I started writing it, but for some reason it's not communicating as smoothly typed up as I had it initially thought out.

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