From Esperanto to ‘Clicks’: Getting to Know Some of Our World’s Lesser Known Languages

The nearly eight billion people in the world speak over 7,000 languages. Some languages are very familiar; many, less so; and some are extremely unusual. Here, we explore four unique languages, two artificial and two indigenous, that offer striking alternatives to our more common tongues.


Developed by Polish doctor Ludwig L. Zamenhof in 1887, Esperanto remains the world’s top artificial language. According to the official Esperanto website, “it is the most appropriate language to eliminate language barriers and to allow international communication for everybody on a basis of mutual respect and understanding.”

In an era when different groups (Russians, Poles, Jews, and Germans) were tense and hostile toward each other, Zamenhof strove to create a language to promote peace and find common ground. He borrowed words from Romance, Slavic, and Germanic languages. These include Polish, English, Spanish, German, French, and Greek. 

Zamenhof designed Esperanto to be incredibly easy to learn. He made it completely phonetic with no strict or extensive grammar rules and only 500 root words that can expand into 5,000 words. He believed it was possible to master the language within months.

Esperanto was not intended to replace one’s native language but to be a “bridge between different language communities.” The ease of use — at least for Westerners — is apparent in words like saluton which means “hello,” jes which means “yes,” and mia nomo estas which means “my name is…”


Esperanto spelled out. Photo: slexp880


Efforts to make Esperanto an official international language have been slow but promising. Several countries include Esperanto translations on their websites, host Esperanto conventions, and offer courses in their schools. Some religions have Esperanto translations in their rituals.

Over the years, Esperanto has evolved from a linguistic tool into a broader identity. It has made its way into film, books, and music. As of today, approximately 100,000 people speak Esperanto, and 1,000 use it as their first language. Famous figures like J.R.R Tolkien, Jules Verne, and George Soros spoke Esperanto.


In the 1800s, a German Catholic priest named Johann Martin Schleyer received an important message from God in a dream. God told him to create an entirely new international language.

One can say that Volapük is the predecessor to Esperanto since it was constructed several years before. Volapük takes inspiration from English, French, and German. The language began with basic rules. Like German, its nouns had four main cases: nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative. Adjectives normally ended in -ik and pronouns began with o. However, Volapük’s original form is very different from what it became. 

volapük language

Volapük spelling. Photo: aga7ta/Shutterstock


Unfortunately, bureaucracy and pettiness got in the way of its progress. Members of the International Volapük Academy had major differences in opinion about how its grammar and vocabulary should behave and sound. The Volapük movement eventually broke into two camps, and each one made so many changes to the language that the original Volapük more or less vanished.

An example of a Volapük sentence: “O flens löfik, Fino dalabobs resodaspadi, kel pededieton lölöfiko Volapüke.” It translates as, “Dear friends, finally we have a website that is dedicated entirely to Volapük.”

Silbo Gomero

This unique register is native to the Canary Islands, an archipelago characterized by vast, rugged, and complex landscapes. Because of its deep valleys and mountains, traveling through the island can be difficult. As a result, settlers produced a language that can be heard several kilometers away. However, no words are required. It’s all whistles.

Silbo Romero, also known as “el siblo”, is a valuable part of the islands’ heritage and one of UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The Guanche people settled in the Canaries after leaving North Africa and used this whistling form of communication before the island’s discovery by the Spanish.

Despite the language’s decline in the 1950s because of emigration, organizations have tried hard to preserve it. Some families continue to pass the tradition down, and the Spanish government has included it in primary and secondary schools. More than 20,000 people use Silbo Gomero. 


La Gomera, a monument to Silbo Gomera, and the chapel Ermita de San Francisco de Asis. Photo: Robert Schneider/Shutterstock


Silbo Gomero does not use vocal cords. It uses one’s hands, lips, tongue, and teeth to make pitches ranging from 1000 to 3000Hz. This sound travels for several kilometers, bridging the complex terrain.

The whistles can vary in pitch and tone. It has six singular sounds, consisting of two vowels and four consonants. However, a user can create thousands of variations from these simple sounds. According to, “the tone of the whistle and the interruption or continuity of the same is what tells each syllable apart.” 


A distinct characteristic of the Khoisan (one of the oldest languages in the world), Bantu, Rift, and Niger-Congo language groups is clicking. Clicking refers to the sounds made by popping, smacking, or creating suction in the mouth. These clicks are involved in over 70% of the words in these languages.

You can find clicking in Zulu, Xhosa, N|uu, Khoe, Kx’a, Tuu, Swazi, and others. Clicking is also present in some other language groups throughout Africa.

Unfortunately, this unique form of communication is slowly dying out. European colonization, globalization, no written record, and a desire to adopt a more common tongue have reduced these speakers to just a few thousand. Some languages have even become extinct.

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu is a writer at ExplorersWeb.

Kristine has been writing about Science, Mysteries and History for 4+ years. Prior to that, Kristine studied at the University of Leicester in the UK.

Based in Port-of-Spain, Kristine is also a literature teacher, avid reader, hiker, occasional photographer, an animal lover and shameless ramen addict.