On November 3 Britt Peterson wrote in Ideas about how the words for animal sounds differ across languages ("meow" in English is “nyan nyan”in Japanese). In that light, it's interesting to consider a linguistics study published this summer in PLoS ONE that finds that wherever you go, the word to indicate "I didn't quite catch what you just said," sounds a lot like: "huh."
The paper, by Mark Dingemanse and Francisco Torreira, looked at 31 languages and found they all had words that sounded and functioned like "huh." The authors dismiss the possibility that "huh" is a representation of a sound (like "achoo") rather than a true word. Instead, they argue, the universality of "huh" owes to convergent evolution, or the fact that the same set of pressures apply in all languages (namely the need for a quick, simple way to express a lack of understanding).
You can hear 10 versions of "huh" in the video below, and read more about the research on the study's website.
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