General Question

Jeruba's avatar

Do speakers of other languages play with their words the way English speakers do?

Asked by Jeruba (55823points) January 27th, 2022

For example:

Hangman and other very old pencil-and-paper games
crossword puzzles
Anagrams (game of letter tiles)
Scrabble (game of letter tiles)
Probe (game of letter tiles)
Ghost (party game)
word searches
Spelling Bee (NYT puzzle)
and now Wordle

They must not even work in some languages. Consider languages with a lot of inflected endings (German), or incorporated vowels (Japanese syllabary), or vowels that can occur before, behind, above, or below the associated consonants (Thai), or (pardon my amateur description) unidirectional structures such as the vowel strings in French, and repeating patterns such as the endings in Spanish. How would they work in word games?

Is there some other kind of word game or puzzle that you can play in those languages but that couldn’t work in English?

Do speakers of some languages never even think of making games out of their writing systems?

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11 Answers

snowberry's avatar

I know the Japanese enjoy puns and double-entendre jokes in their own language as much as we do in ours. Does that count?

Jeruba's avatar

@snowberry, I think those might even be easier in Japanese.

But no, I am speaking of written words in what we call word games, involving the actual letters (spelling) or characters or units of configuration of the written words, and not word play involving entire words and their meaning.

snowberry's avatar

I’ll ask my daughter in Japan, and let you know.

By the way, her husband is from Brazil. I’ll have her ask him too.

rebbel's avatar

In Germany they play Wortlelelelelelelelelel; only words with a letter count of 28 can be used.

In Dutch all kinds of word games can be played.
Wordle, hangman, crosswords, anagrams, etc.

ragingloli's avatar

I do not see how other languages would not work in those games.
They all use words, and words are just arbitrary assemblies of letters.

ragingloli's avatar

Here is a funny word: “umfahren”.
It means both “to run something over” and “to drive around something”, depending on which part of the word you emphasise.

JLeslie's avatar

In Mexico they do play hangman.

Scrabble comes in many languages and the number of tiles for each letter does change according to the language. Spanish would have more A’s and O’s than English for instance. It might also have tiles for LL and CH, I’m not sure. I’m assuming Ñ also.

Edit: I found this link about scrabble made for many different languages.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@ragingloli These games become more difficult as you change the written language. I can’t remember the games played in Japanese. I can confirm what @snowberry said. Puns are rampant in Japanese, and the ability to make and understand them is a high mark of fluency. But those aren’t the kind of written games that @Jeruba is asking about here.

snowberry's avatar

From my daughter:

Mom, the Japanese LOVE word games. The most popular one among kids is called “Shiritori” or “Taking the Tail”. This is a game where you say or write one word, and the next person has to give a word that starts with the same letter as the last one began.

For example, if I said “apple” you would have to say a word that starts with “e”, like “elephant”, then the next person has to say a word that starts with “t”.

This works really well with Japanese. The person asking the questions seems very unfamiliar with the Japanese alphabet, as they think that incorporated vowels would be a problem. It actually makes things easier.

Each letter is a combined sound. For example, the letter か is pronounced “ka”. This is a single letter. So, in Shiritori, I might have to say a word that starts with “ka”.

Word searches and cross word puzzles are also very common here in Japan. They work very easily with Japanese. Hangman does as well, but that is not a well known game over here except in English classes. (And the suicide rate is high enough in Japan that you need to change the format. Too many kids have known people who hanged themselves.)

Stay tuned for word games in Portuguese, French and Russian.

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