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.
A tale of edible intrigue
Who writes the fortunes in fortune cookies? Why are so many of them not really fortunes at all? Why did some fortunes turn ominous for a while? (“After today, you shall have a deeper understanding of both good and evil.”) And who was behind the theft of countless fortunes? Lidia Jean Kott has the answers to […]
The pleasure and pain of spelling
With the Scripps National Spelling Bee back after a Covid-enforced year off, we conduct our very own spelling quiz. Also, Kavita Pillay offers her take on why Indian American kids perform so well in spelling bees. And author and self-described “crummy" speller David Wolman tells us why he wrote a history of English spelling and the many attempts to reform it.
We are the people
The German word “Volk” usually translates as “people,” but it means a whole lot more than that. In 1989 as Germans tore down the Berlin Wall, they chanted, “Wir sind das Volk!” (“We are the people!”) Today, though, “Volk” no longer unites Germans. Some understand it to mean everyone living in Germany. Others define it […]
The little pronoun that could
In 2012, a children’s book in Sweden sparked a nationwide debate— not about the book’s content but a three-letter word used by the main character. Hen was a relatively new, gender-neutral pronoun which challenged Swedish grammar norms. The use of hen tapped into a conversation the country was already having about gender and equality. Can the introduction of one word make a difference in changing societal views? Nina Porzucki goes to Sweden to find out.
How the alphabet won our hearts
If you’re under the impression that encyclopedias and dictionaries in the West were always organized from A to Z, think again. We have chosen to classify knowledge in many ways, each reflecting the values of the age. Patrick Cox speaks with Judith Flanders, author of A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order about the centuries-long resistance to alphabetization, and why A to Z may now be here to stay.
Japan’s mystery language
Japan is an ethnically homogenous nation where everyone speaks Japanese, right? Not exactly. Other groups including the Ainu also have called Japan home, perhaps for longer than the Japanese themselves. Today, the Ainu language is spoken by only a handful of people. One of them, Russian-born linguist Anna Bugaeva, takes Patrick Cox to meet Ainu speakers (and non-speakers) on the island of Hokkaido. Along the way, we learn about the mysteries of Ainu, a "language isolate" unrelated to any other language in the world. Bugaeva says Japanese children aren't taught about Ainu culture because it contradicts standard Japanese history.
I love all the learning I gain from the various topics. I wish I was a linguist or could speak more than just English. :-(
Great podcast it’s very enjoyable to listen and learn.
Various topics having to do with language, and always interesting with a new way of looking at the world.
Slightly aggravating insistence on spelling pronunciation of Volk
Should not keep on mispronouncing the very word that is the subject of the episode: Volk.