Language unites and divides us. It mystifies and delights us. Patrick Cox and Kavita Pillay tell the stories of people with all kinds of linguistic passions: comedians, writers, researchers; speakers of endangered languages; speakers of multiple languages; and just speakers—people like you and me.
Is Mx here to stay?
When a word first enters the language, it sounds weird to some, radical to others and comforting to just a few. Only later does it seem 'natural.' So it was with the honorific Ms in the 20th century. So it may be with the non-binary Mx. Today, British banks and utilities routinely give customers the option to use Mx. Will American companies follow suit? And what might Shakespeare have thought? His gender-neutral 'master-mistress,' is arguably more poetic than Mx, but it might be a bit of a mouthful for our times.
This episode was reported by Leo Hornak and Nina Porzucki. Music by Stationary Sign, The Freeharmonic Orchestra, Podington Bear, Josef Falkensköld and Silver Maple. The photo of performer Justin Vivian Bond, who uses Mx, is by Rhododendrites via Creative Commons. Read a transcript of the episode here.
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Americans, Brits and the foreignness of English
American English and British English aren't different languages. But they're not the same either, even if they're getting closer. There are all those different words for things: diaper/nappy, faucet/tap and so on. More challenging are common words used in subtly different ways: sure, reckon, middle class. Who better to ask about these and other terms than UK-based American linguist Lynne Murphy and her British husband and daughter? Spoiler alert: They don't always agree.
Lynne Murphy is the author of The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English. Music in this episode by Josef Falkensköld, Stationary Sign, Rebecca Mardal and Luella Gren. Photo courtesy of Wellcome Images/Creative Commons. Read a transcript of this episode here.
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A German-speaking outpost in the American Midwest
German used to be one of the most widely-spoken languages in the United States. A survey in 1900 listed 613 US-based German-language newspapers. Today, only a handful survive, and German is barely spoken at all. One exception is Cole Camp, Missouri. Our guide, Suzanne Hogan, hosts public radio station KCUR's podcast, A People's History of Kansas City.
Thanks to Suzanne Hogan for the photo of German language activists Neil and Marilyn Heimsoth. More photos and info on Camp Cole's German-Americans are here. Find out more about A People's History of Kansas City here, and you can email the producers here. The reporting for this episode was supported by the Midwest Genealogy Center.
Music in this episode by Luella Gren, Dream Cave, Primary Color, Podington Bear, Blue Dot Sessions and Breath before the Plunge.
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Season 4 is coming
In our upcoming season, we have stories about voice clones, tongue twisters and small languages fighting back. We'll hear from comedians, bilingual lovers and badly-behaved grandmothers. Look out for the first episode on November 1.
Music by Harry Edvino and The Freeharmonic Orchestra. Photo by Patrick Cox.
Subtitle is a production of Quiet Juice and the Linguistic Society of America. Sign up for Subtitle’s newsletter here.
The precious secrets of Udi
Never heard of the Udi language? Get ready to be beguiled by this poster child for endangered languages. The history of the Udi people and their language includes an ancient kingdom, an exodus to escape persecution, and the creation of a bespoke alphabet. Udi also has a unique grammatical feature, a form of linguistic behavior that scholars previously thought was impossible. No wonder the small Udi-speaking community of Zinobiani in the Republic of Georgia attracts visitors from around the world , including Subtitle's Patrick Cox.
Music in this episode by Howard Harper-Barnes, Christian Andersen, Rand Aldo, Farrell Wooten, Leimoti, and Stonekeepers.
The photo shows linguist Thomas Wier and Udi activist Alexander Kavtaradze at a memorial of Kavtaradze's great great uncle, Zinobi Silikashvili, founder of Zinobiani. For more photos and a transcript of the episode, go here.
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The future sound of Black English
If you want to know where African American English is headed, listen to Shondel Nero. Shondel was born in the Caribbean nation of Guyana where she code-switched between Guyana Creolese and colonial British English. As a young adult she moved to North America, eventually settling in New York City where she became a professor of language education at NYU. Shondel tells guest host Ciku Theuri that the various versions of English spoken by Black immigrants are rubbing off on Black American speech. Aided by the likes of TikTok, African American English is now going through a period of rapid change.
Music in this episode by HATAMITSUNAMI, Matt Large, Rocket Jr., and Osoku. More about Shondel Nero here. The photo of Shondel was taken at Kaieteur Falls, the world’s largest single drop waterfall located deep in the rainforest of her native Guyana.
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Yes please more!
I love this pod and its earlier incarnation, The World in Words. I’ve recommended it to many friends and coworkers too. Among all the important things to learn from the pod is the healthy reset of my view of the linguistic center, as a native english speaker from the USA. But it’s good storytelling and humor too. So very good. Thank you Patrick Cox and Kavita Pillay.
So much fun!
I’ve recommended this podcast to quite a few folks. Listen to a couple of episodes and you will be hooked.
I look forward to each new episode. Patrick Cox’s curiosity about language and his excellent shaping of the stories make this a delightful podcast.