As usual, minority-language reporting is filled with weird formulations.

> Their language, also called Kusunda, is unique: it is believed by linguists to be unrelated to any other language in the world. Scholars still aren't sure how it originated.

Languages with no known relatives are called isolates, and there are a lot of those: And languages do not normally "originate", unless they are constructed, like Esperanto, or arise in unusual circumstances, like spontaneous sign languages in isolated deaf communities.

> And it has a variety of unusual elements, including lacking any standard way of negating a sentence, words for "yes" or "no", or any words for direction.

As pointed out in other comments, not having words for "yes" or "no" is not very surprising. As for a "standard way" of negating a sentence, I wonder what that means. Kusunda has negative verbal suffixes, which vary based on some grammatical features, but so do many other languages. Location and direction is also usually specified by suffixes like in, e.g., Hungarian or Finnish.

See a grammatical overview for details:

> Nepal's Kusunda language has no known origin and a number of quirks, like no words for "yes" or "no".

That's not that uncommon, Scottish Gaelic and Irish, both spoken in the UK (take note British Broadcasting Corporation), have that same quirk—at least traditionally. There's some anecdotal evidence that with the number of non-native speakers learning the language, that Tá/Níl and Sea/Ní hea are starting to fill that gap in Irish.

> including lacking any standard way of negating a sentence, [...], or any words for direction.

These are much more interesting features (or lack thereof)! Why wouldn't the article lead with that?

EDIT: This is even funnier after seeing that the author even has a name of Scottish Gaelic/Irish origin: Eileen McDougall.

Most famously, Latin has no word for "yes". Different circumlocutions to say "yes" evolved into the words for "yes" in romance languages.

"sic" -> si/sim (italian, spanish, portuguese)

"hoc" -> oc (occitan)

"hoc ille" -> oui (french)

Skepticism is usually warranted about claims that <super obscure language> has a <really unique feature> or doesn't have <really common concept>. Linguists like to publish this kind of thing because it's catchy, but many of these claims don't stand up to closer scrutiny.

A few examples:

* Daniel Everett made an entire career out of claiming various dubious things about the Piraha language, including that it has no colors other than light/dark, lacks recursion and has phonemes used in no other language on the planet

* Guugu Yimithirr supposedly only has absolute directions (north, west, etc, instead of left, right)


Languages without yes and no are called echo languages. English used to be four-form with yes/no and yeah/nay, but now it's two-form.

It is amazing that no one yet has posted about the Japanese language. Yes, "technically" there is a term for "no" (いいえ). In practice, outside of official documentation, almost no one uses it in daily life. (When you fill official docs, はい==yes, and いいえ==no.) There are so many stupid Japanese language training books that teach you about "いいえ", but you will never hear it in the Real World, except during language trailing dialogs! Most Japanese people will say "違います" (chiigamasu / "it is different") to avoid saying "no" directly.
There are a lot of languages which don't have words which map neatly onto the English 'yes' and 'no'.
Not sure about Mandarin and other dialects, but Cantonese has no words for yes or no as well. Instead, cantonese speakers generally repeat the verb asked in a question in a positive or negative way, as in [Speaker A] Will you or will you not go to the dance? [Speaker B] Will not. Or in other circumstances they'll just use the be-verb ("haih"), or its negation ("mh-haih"); or the have-verb ("yauh") or its negation ("mouh") when appropriate.
> When saying "I saw a bird" compared to "I will see a bird", a Kusunda speaker might indicate the past action not by tense, but by describing it as an experience directly related to the speaker. Meanwhile, the future action would remain general and not associated to any subject.

Nothing strange about this. I think Chinese is similar too. The intention of the speaker is more important than the words he/she says.

Related (and one of my fav papers in linguistics) - Interality as a Key to Deciphering Guiguzi: A Challenge to Critics

I'm learning Chinese, and it was also quite tricky to realize that it also does not have a word for yes and no. (Despite what translators will tell you, yes is not 是 (shi), no is not 不 (bu), rather 是 means 'to be' and 不 negates whatever verb comes after)

Rather, Chinese responds indicates affirmative or negative by repeating the verb of the question in either plain or negated form.


Q: Do you like hot pot? A: like | not like Q: ni xihuan huoguo ma? A: xihuan | bu xihuan

Q: Do you have covid? A: have | not have Q: ni you mei you wuhan feiyan? A: you | meiyou

Q: Are you american? A: is | is not Q: ni shi meiguoren ma? A: shi | bu shi


This was quite strange to get used to, but makes perfect sense once internalized.

English is missing some seemingly basic answer words too, which are present in other languages. Like no single word for unambiguously answering a negative question.

E.g. Q: Aren't you finished yet?

Answering 'yes' or 'no' would be ambiguous

As long as it uses NAND they are fine
This must be yaml
Marathi, a language in the western part of India, does not have a word for thank you. Instead the word "aabhar" - roughly meaning indebted - is used. Thus, if I do something for you, then you respond with "aabhar", meaning I am indebted to you.
"Yes" and "No" are just shorthand forms of all sorts of longer sentences like:

"What you said is true."

"I agree with what you said."

"What you said is false."

"I will do what you said."

"I will not do what you said."

"I did that."

"I didn't do that."

"The ball is blue."

"The ball isn't blue."

Lisp (nothing is impossible)
Chinese doesn't either (technically).

好 = OK,

是 = Is,

Both are used to mean yes

不要 = Don't want,

不用 = Don't need,

Both are used to mean no

> It also has only one fluent speaker left

I wonder how you can be a fluent speaker if you have nobody to talk to?

This is not that unusual. Nepali also doesn't have a clean-cut yes/no translation.
Definitely not prolog that would be a complete failure!

see what I did there?

A Great language for politicians then
So.. newspeak?