So says idibon.
Beijing Cream took the hint and ran with it: "Cantonese, Which Sounds Like A Jackhammer Mating With A Chainsaw, Is Apparently Less 'Weird' Than Mandarin".
When I first read these sensationalistic claims, I stood back, took a deep breath, and said to myself, "Wait a minute! There are lots of people (mostly Mandarin speakers!) who swear that Mandarin is the most pleasant sounding of all the Sinitic languages." Just what is it that has led idibon to declare Cantonese to be less weird than Mandarin?
To assure myself that idibon was not a bunch of crackpots, I went to their homepage and found that they are actually a serious NLP outfit. Their management and advisors include recognized linguists who are associated with Stanford University, others who have worked for Google and Yahoo, and leaders in crowdsourcing, a word I didn't know until I wrote this post. Chris Walker worked at LDC (here at Penn) for several years. Ben Zimmer is familiar with the work of Tyler Schnoebelen and first mentioned him on Language Log in Oct. 2011, referring to his NWAV paper about affective patterns on Twitter, and Ben also covered his 2012 NWAV paper, presenting his research with David Bamman and Jacob Eisenstein on gender and Twitter.
Let's take a look at the research report (or, rather, blog post) that spawned all the wild headlines. Mark Liberman blogged about this "weirdest languages" piece, both explaining and critiquing it. Rather than repeat what Mark has said, I encourage readers to go to his post, and also to look at the lively discussion which followed it in the comments.
For a full list of the 21 weirdness features and all of the languages that had values for at least one of them, click on the link at the bottom of the idibon post.
For those who are in a hurry, I'll mention just a couple of things:
1. In this context, "weird" means roughly "has linguistic features that are unlike those of most other languages".
2. On a scale that measures 21 distinctive features, Mandarin came out as being among the top 25 weirdest languages, whereas Cantonese was among the bottom 10 of weird languages.
Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it!
But an even bigger surprise than that for me was finding Hungarian near the bottom of the weirdness scale, since I have recently returned from Budapest where I found the language to be singularly opaque, quite unlike my experience when travelling almost anywhere else on the globe.
[Thanks to Kaiser Kuo and Anne Henochowicz]