Bongo-Bongo (linguistics)

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In linguistics, Bongo-Bongo is used as a name for an imaginary language. It is most commonly invoked in etymological studies to conceptualize random similarities between unrelated languages.[1] It has also been used as a name for a constructed language invented by John Lyons as a teaching tool in linguistics.[2]

Etymological studies[edit]

Many entirely coincidental word similarities have been documented and regularly occur between languages regardless of how related or unrelated the languages may be; these are commonly disregarded in the academic study of etymology. The widespread habit of unscientific researches to look for such coincidental similarities and proclaim them as proof of genetic relationship has given rise to the term Bongo-Bongo approach or Bongo-Bongo effect.[1] For example, when comparing random surface forms in Basque and Hungarian (which are known to be unrelated languages), "pairings" such as hegi (Basque for "ridge") and hegy (Hungarian for "hill") are easily found but ultimately meaningless in terms of etymology without additional historical linguistic research and data in regards to their origin. It could be just as easily argued that the two developed independently in their respective languages, being words that use sounds common to all human languages for a common object or idea.[1]

In anthropology[edit]

The concept can also be found occasionally in anthropology where the Bongo-Bongo are sarcastically used as an imaginary tribe or ethnicity (or by extension, Bongo Bongo Land).[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Trask, R.L. The History of Basque Routledge: 1997 ISBN 0-415-13116-2
  2. ^ Murray, N. Writing Essays in English Language and Linguistics: Principles, Tips and Strategies for Undergraduates Cambridge University Press (2012) ISBN 978-0521128469
  3. ^ Kippenberg, HG (ed) Concepts of Person in Religion and Thought (Religion and Reason, No 37) de Gruyter (1990) ISBN 978-3110121599