• Alysa Salzberg

Short video exposes a weird rule found in many languages

Languages have many mysteries, even to their native speakers. A recent video from the BBC explores one of them - a strange, ancient linguistic rule that many of us grow up with, but rarely think about.


Speakers of languages as diverse as English, Japanese and German, practice something called ablaut reduplication.


This linguistic phenomenon means that we order the vowels in duplicate word combinations in a particular way: A short “i” or long “e” sound will always come before “o” and “a”. For instance, we say “zig-zag” and “seesaw”, rather than “zag-zig” and “sawsee”.


Linguists aren’t certain why this rule exists, although there are some theories.


You can learn more ablaut reduplication – and the possible reason we follow this rule, by

watching this delightful short video.


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