Phonetics Puzzles

Due to the popularity of my previous posting of linguistics puzzles, I’ve translated some more puzzles from the online book Problems from Linguistics Olympiads 1965-1975. All of them are from the phonetics section and I’ve kept the same problem number as in the book. I’ve used the Unicode encoding for special characters.

Problem 20. In the table below there are numerals from some Polynesian languages. Note that I couldn’t find the proper English translation for one of the languages, so I used transliteration from Russian. The language sounds like “Nukuhiva” in Russian.

Languages 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Hawaiian kahi lua   ha lima ono hiku walu   *****
Māori tahi rua toru wha   ono whitu waru iwa *****
Nukuhiva tahi   to’u ha   ono   va’u   *****
Rarotongan ta’i     ‘a rima ono ‘itu varu iva ŋa’uru
Samoan tasi lua     lima ono fitu   iva ŋafulu

Your task is to find the words that should be in the empty cells. Note that wh, ‘, and ŋ denote special consonants.

Problem 21. Below you will find words in several relative languages. You can group these words into pairs or triples of words with the same origin and the same or a similar meaning.

āk, dagr, bōk, leib, fōtr, waʐʐar, buoh, dæʒ, plōgr, hām, wæter, hleifr, pfluog, eih, heimr, fuoʐ, plōʒ.

Task 1. Divide the words into groups so that the first group has words from the same language, the second group has words from another language and so on.

Task 2. (optional) List your suggestions about the meanings of the words and about the identity of the languages.

Problem 22. These words from the Aliutor language are followed by their translations. The stresses are marked by an apostrophe in front of the stressed vowel.

  • t’atul — fox
  • nətɣ’əlqin — hot
  • nur’aqin — far away
  • ɣ’əlɣən — skin
  • n’eqəqin — fast
  • nəs’əqqin — cold
  • tapl’aŋətkən — He sews shoes
  • k’əmɣətək — to roll up
  • ʔ’itək — to be
  • paq’ətkuk — gallop
  • n’ilɣəqinat — white (they both)
  • p’unta — liver
  • qet’umɣən — relative
  • p’iwtak — to pour
  • nəm’itqin — skillful
  • t’umɣətum — friend
  • t’ətka — walrus
  • k’əttil — forehead
  • qalp’uqal — rainbow
  • kəp’irik — hold (a baby in the hands)
  • təv’itatətkən — I work
  • p’intəvəlŋək — attack (each other)

Your task is to put the stresses in the following words: sawat ‘lasso’, pantawwi ‘fur boots’, nəktəqin ‘solid’, ɣətɣan ‘late autumn’, nəminəm ‘bouillon’, nirvəqin ‘sharp’, pujɣən ‘spear’, tilmətil ‘eagle’, wiruwir ‘red fish’, wintatək ‘to help’, nəmalqin ‘good’, jaqjaq ‘seagull’, jatək ‘to come’, tavitətkən ‘I will work’, pintətkən ‘he attacks (someone)’, tajəsqəŋki ‘in the evening’.

Note that the vowel ə is similar to many unstressed syllables in English words, such as the second syllable in the words “taken” and “pencil”. This vowel is shorter than other vowels in the Aliutor language.



  1. RS:

    I would imagine “Nukuhiva” is Marquesan, spoken in the Marquesas Islands, as the largest is called Nuku Hiva.

  2. Tara B:

    Ten in Maori is tekau, which I don’t see how you’d be supposed to get from the information given.

  3. Tanya Khovanova:


    That is why tens are blackened out. You are only required to fill in empty cells.

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