Much like every sunset – or indeed every person – every language is beautiful in its own way. That said, here are ten that have a little something special. Don’t see your favorite? Add it in the comments and discuss!
Let’s continue with one that most of us can agree on, the language of Dante, Pavarotti, and even Silvio Berlusconi. Italian has long been known as one of the foremost languages in the world of art, opera, and of course, romance – even the spoken version of it sounds like a song to non-native speakers. Nothing sounds as passionate as when it is said in Italian.
Arabic’s most beautiful aspect may be its alphabet, and the incredible calligraphy that scribes have created using it over the centuries. As the liturgical language of Islam, Arabic calligraphy has always been a highly venerated form of religious art. Arabic also has an impressive body of poetry, all of which puts the aural beauty of the language on display. The sounds may be unfamiliar to someone who hasn’t studied it, but if you give it a chance, it will sweep you away.
The Slavic languages are admittedly a bit of an acquired taste, especially after seeing so many bad guys with Russian accents in American movies – but there’s something really wonderful about Czech, the westernmost branch of the Slavic language family. It has one completely unique sound, ř, the “rzh” sound in the middle of composer Antonin Dvořák’s surname, which peppers the language and lends it some spice. Perhaps due to its geographical position on the crossroads between West and East in what can truly be called Central Europe, it somehow sounds less Slavic and more like a unique mixture of Slavic and the other, generally Germanic languages that surround it.
Wolof is spoken natively by the over four million people who live on the West African coast in Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania. It has grown into a lingua franca of sorts in the region, and over time has built up a significant body of poetry and song. It even has its own alphabet – the Garay alphabet, which was created by a Senegalese artist in the 1960s and which some people still use now. You will enjoy listening to it spoken or in song, but more than both of those things, you’ll enjoy them put together – Wolof translates especially well into rap.
When J.R.R. Tolkien created Quenya, or High Elvish, he had a little real life inspiration in the form of Finnish, the Finno-Ugric member of the Nordic language group. Listening to both of them will leave you in no doubt of the connection. Finnish sounds unlike anything else in Europe, with the possible exception of its close cousin, Estonian and, on the contrary, exceedingly far removed from its distant cousin, Hungarian. It has a lovely lilt to it and a subtle staccato quality, which translates well into music and poetry, but which also sounds surprisingly good in the form of reggae.
Welsh has shown formidable strength against the sometimes unstoppable tide of English, even though it is spoken natively only on the island that English came from. Over the last several decades, it has undergone a revitalization process that can act as a model for endangered minority languages all over the world. Wales is a fully bilingual society now.
In addition to being a fascinating language linguistically, Cherokee is also one of the strongest Native American languages (which is saying something, considering that the number of native speakers is hovering around 13,000). There has been a significant amount of Cherokee-language literature published, possibly because Cherokee has possessed its own writing system since the mid-19th century. A man named Sequoyah developed a syllabary to represent the language in writing, meaning that each symbol stands for a full syllable. Thankfully, many young Cherokees are now taking an interest in the language – it would be a huge shame to lose so much tradition and beauty.
There may be an innumerable number of different Chinese dialects, but they all share the same written characters – something truly amazing to behold. Instead of learning 25–45 symbols that represent sounds, like those of us who use alphabets do for our reading and writing – a literate Chinese person has to learn thousands upon thousands of characters that each represent a word. Plus, Chinese characters have been passed down through the generations, always tied closely to the culture. Their history, intricacy, and difficulty make them a true thing of beauty. As with Arabic, Chinese calligraphy has always been highly prized as an art form; we can all get behind a language whose people value writing so strongly.
India is famous for its linguistic diversity, and one of the most beautiful languages spoken on the Indian Subcontinent is certainly Bengali. It has a gorgeous writing system to begin with, and a flowing sound that one of the world’s greatest poets, Rabindranath Tagore, used to create his art. It has also proven itself to be literally worth fighting for: when the state required that all people use Urdu for their studies and throughout their lives, a number of students lost their lives in protesting for the right to use Bengali. Thanks in part to the stand they took, Bengali is still around today and is spoken by about 230 million people in India and Bangladesh.
English is a gorgeous piece of work, isn’t it? Its history is fairly unique among the world’s major languages. Around the turn of the first millennium, it was going along its business and developing as a Germanic language, and then the Normans invaded England from what is now France, bringing their language with them and affecting what was then Old English to the point where the modern language could almost be considered a creole, a mixture of two languages. Fast forward 1000 years, and now English is the largest global lingua franca, allowing people across cultures everywhere to communicate in either their native, extensively studied, or newly acquired language. If that isn’t a form of beauty, what is?
For a great example of English on screen, check out the stars of The Crown talking about their award-winning Netflix drama. You might also like to know which destination was recently voted as the UK’s ‘best place to live’.
If you enjoyed this article, why not check out the great pieces in our Explore Your World Through Language campaign.