Cover image of The World in Words
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Society & Culture

The World in Words

Updated 4 days ago

Society & Culture
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The World in Words is a podcast about languages and the people who speak them. What happens to the brain on bilingualism? Does it matter that so many languages are dying out? Should we fear the rise of global English? Is the United States losing its linguistic cohesion? Why are Chinese tech words so inventive? Why does Icelandic have so many cool swearwords? Patrick Cox and Nina Porzucki bring you stories from the world’s linguistic frontlines. Also at pri.org/language

Read more

The World in Words is a podcast about languages and the people who speak them. What happens to the brain on bilingualism? Does it matter that so many languages are dying out? Should we fear the rise of global English? Is the United States losing its linguistic cohesion? Why are Chinese tech words so inventive? Why does Icelandic have so many cool swearwords? Patrick Cox and Nina Porzucki bring you stories from the world’s linguistic frontlines. Also at pri.org/language

iTunes Ratings

582 Ratings
Average Ratings
527
31
12
5
7

Whoa. I mean whoa. Egy jól pod.

By Anotherchessaddict - Jun 26 2019
Read more
This is soo good. Patrick and Nina I miss you. Where did you go? -Dave B

So much fun

By arielthecat - Jan 22 2019
Read more
For language nerds this is lovely, good depth

iTunes Ratings

582 Ratings
Average Ratings
527
31
12
5
7

Whoa. I mean whoa. Egy jól pod.

By Anotherchessaddict - Jun 26 2019
Read more
This is soo good. Patrick and Nina I miss you. Where did you go? -Dave B

So much fun

By arielthecat - Jan 22 2019
Read more
For language nerds this is lovely, good depth

Listen to:

Cover image of The World in Words

The World in Words

Updated 4 days ago

Read more

The World in Words is a podcast about languages and the people who speak them. What happens to the brain on bilingualism? Does it matter that so many languages are dying out? Should we fear the rise of global English? Is the United States losing its linguistic cohesion? Why are Chinese tech words so inventive? Why does Icelandic have so many cool swearwords? Patrick Cox and Nina Porzucki bring you stories from the world’s linguistic frontlines. Also at pri.org/language

Losing your accent

Podcast cover
Read more
English is spoken with countless accents by both native and non-native speakers. But a hierarchy persists: there are 'good accents and 'bad' ones. So whether you're from Thailand or Tennessee, you may want to get rid of your accent. We hear from a few such people, and from someone who has no interest in changing his accent.

Jan 12 2018

18mins

Play

If you could talk to the animals

Podcast cover
Read more
Do you talk to your dog? Does your dog talk back to you? Dr. Doolittle’s dream of talking to the animals is one many of us can share. But what do all of those howls and growls mean and is it really language? This week on the podcast NOVA’s Ari Daniel joins us to explore the communication patterns of three different species: Túngara frogs, Humpback whales and Diana monkeys. And if you listen and still want more...continue to nerd out with NOVA. They're going deep this month with a new program, "NOVA Wonders: What Are Animals Saying?" www.pbs.org/novawonders

Apr 25 2018

28mins

Play

How has Basque survived?

Podcast cover
Read more
Basque is a language isolate. Spoken in a region that spans northern Spain across the border into southern France, it is not part of the Indo-European language family. It’s not related to Spanish or French or German or Greek or any known language. The origins of the language are a bit of mystery. In fact you can almost hear the history of the European continent in the language according to Basque language scholar Xabier Irujo.

“The Basque language has words coming from all languages that have been in Europe since prehistory from Latin and Celtic languages, and probably from languages before these Celtic languages. Who knows what was spoken in Europe at the time.”

This week on the podcast we talk about this mysterious language. How did it survive the military dictatorship of Francisco Franco when writing and speaking were illegal? How has this minority language thrived and even grown in the years since Franco’s dictatorship ended? And what’s the future hold for the language?

May 31 2018

34mins

Play

Could Neanderthals talk?

Podcast cover
Read more
Humans are the only creatures on Earth that can choke on their own food. Yes, that’s right. Because we have funky plumbing. There’s a crucial split in our throats – one path that leads to the esophagus and the stomach, and another that leads to our larynx, or voice box. Why would humans have evolved such potentially fatal architecture? Some experts say the reason is speech, suggesting speech might pre-date Homo sapiens, going back to Neanderthals, or even Homo erectus, our likely ancestors from millions of years ago. This is all theoretical of course. There are no million-year-old recordings. But some of these ideas are gaining steam. This week on the podcast, reporter Ari Daniel from our partner program NOVA explores several theories about where language comes from.

Feb 21 2018

23mins

Play

The words of 2017

Podcast cover
Read more
What are the words and images that best describe this past year? And why do some people think "whom" is obsolete? We talk with Buzzfeed's copy chief Emmy Favilla and Cartoon Queen Carol Hills who monitors political cartoons from around the world.

Dec 20 2017

26mins

Play

The Story of 'X'

Podcast cover
Read more
From X-rated to Gen X to Latinx, the meaning of 'X' has shifted while retaining an edgy, transgressive quality. We trace the meandering semantic route of 'X' through the 20th and 21st centuries, with help from Afro-Latinx writer Jack Qu'emi, retired linguistics professor Ron Smyth and film historian Adrian Smith.

Apr 03 2018

26mins

Play

The three-letter-word that rocked a nation

Podcast cover
Read more
In 2012, a little known Swedish press published a children’s book that sparked a nationwide debate. The debate wasn’t about the plot of the book, nor the pictures, but concerned a three-letter word used by the main character of the story. That word was the relatively new, gender neutral pronoun “hen.” Traditionally, Swedish does not have a gender neutral pronoun for people. "Hen" tapped into an ongoing conversation in the country was already having about gender and equality.This week on the podcast we go to Sweden and examine whether gender neutral language can help shape shift societal views on gender equality.

This is part of a series on language and gender in collaboration with the Across Women's Lives project. For more stories on language and gender around the globe head to: www.pri.org/acrosswomenslives.

Thanks to engineer Tina Tobey and Nathalie Rothschild for help on the podcast.

Mar 27 2018

29mins

Play

Your brain on improv

Podcast cover
Read more
Ever wondered about people who can improvise on stage? How the words seem to come so easily? Neuroscientist Charles Limb and comedian Anthony Veneziale did. First came the bromance, then Veneziale found himself improvising inside an fMRI machine.

May 24 2018

22mins

Play

The rules of bilingual love

Podcast cover
Read more
He wrote to her mainly in Swedish, and she replied in Finnish. The correspondence of "Finlandia" composer Jean Sibelius and his wife Aino is funny and touching. And their letters are a goldmine for the study of code-switching.

Feb 13 2018

23mins

Play

Speaking Yiddish to the dead

Podcast cover
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In 2000, American poet Jennifer Kronovet began taking Yiddish classes for just one reason: to translate Yiddish poetry into English.

Nov 08 2017

29mins

Play

The sci-fi of another language

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In the West, we are used to sci-fi written by English-speakers who dream up English-speaking utopias and dystopias. Often in the final reel, humanity is saved by English-speaking heroes. So what should we expect from China's newly-thriving sci-fi scene? Does it have its own hopes and fears, specific to Chinese values and encoded in the language? Or is the sci-fi genre more global than local?

Mar 13 2019

27mins

Play

A family divided by English

Podcast cover
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When American Lynne Murphy says 'sure' to her British husband, he thinks she means 'not really.' After 18 years together, they still disagree-- and not just on 'sure.'

Oct 10 2018

21mins

Play

Poetry thieves

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Some people see British poet Ira Lightman as a champion of poets whose verses he valiantly defends. Others view him as a blowhard who delights in ruining other people's reputations. Either way, the story of his poetry sleuthing might make you think differently about what exactly plagiarism is.

Sep 05 2018

36mins

Play

The holes between the dots

Podcast cover
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Some people believe technology will render Braille obsolete, that blind people will choose talking apps and audiobooks over embossed dots. Maybe, but Braille has been written off many times before. Each time, it has come back stronger. We trace Braille from its beginnings, in Napoleon's France, through the "War of the Dots" in the early 20th century to the age of the smart phone, and beyond.

Aug 08 2018

26mins

Play

How soccer became multilingual

Podcast cover
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Professional soccer used to export its English-language terminology, giving other languages words like 'penalty' and 'goal.' But now, the roles are reversed. English-speakers use expressions loaned from other languages to describe skill moves: 'rabona,' 'panenka,' 'gegenpress.'

Jun 19 2018

15mins

Play

How has Basque survived?

Podcast cover
Read more
Basque is a language isolate. Spoken in a region that spans northern Spain across the border into southern France, it is not part of the Indo-European language family. It’s not related to Spanish or French or German or Greek or any known language. The origins of the language are a bit of mystery. In fact you can almost hear the history of the European continent in the language according to Basque language scholar Xabier Irujo.

“The Basque language has words coming from all languages that have been in Europe since prehistory from Latin and Celtic languages, and probably from languages before these Celtic languages. Who knows what was spoken in Europe at the time.”

This week on the podcast we talk about this mysterious language. How did it survive the military dictatorship of Francisco Franco when writing and speaking were illegal? How has this minority language thrived and even grown in the years since Franco’s dictatorship ended? And what’s the future hold for the language?

May 31 2018

34mins

Play

Your brain on improv

Podcast cover
Read more
Ever wondered about people who can improvise on stage? How the words seem to come so easily? Neuroscientist Charles Limb and comedian Anthony Veneziale did. First came the bromance, then Veneziale found himself improvising inside an fMRI machine.

May 24 2018

22mins

Play

My language is my home

Podcast cover
Read more
Lea is a teenager born and raised in Japan. Her mother is Chinese, her father American. She speaks English, Mandarin and Japanese but isn’t sure which of them is her mother tongue. Karolina lives in Boston but grew up in several countries and speaks a bunch of languages. Her English is perfect but she doesn’t feel completely at home in it, or in American culture. Welcome to the world of third culture kids, a fast-growing group of people who fit in everywhere and nowhere.

May 17 2018

21mins

Play

Abandoning your mother tongue

Podcast cover
Read more
Alina Simone was born in the Soviet Union to Russian-speaking parents and now lives in New York. She initially raised her daughter to speak both English and Russian. So why did she give up on Russian and send her daughter to a Chinese immersion school?

May 09 2018

18mins

Play

If you could talk to the animals

Podcast cover
Read more
Do you talk to your dog? Does your dog talk back to you? Dr. Doolittle’s dream of talking to the animals is one many of us can share. But what do all of those howls and growls mean and is it really language? This week on the podcast NOVA’s Ari Daniel joins us to explore the communication patterns of three different species: Túngara frogs, Humpback whales and Diana monkeys. And if you listen and still want more...continue to nerd out with NOVA. They're going deep this month with a new program, "NOVA Wonders: What Are Animals Saying?" www.pbs.org/novawonders

Apr 25 2018

28mins

Play

The Story of 'X'

Podcast cover
Read more
From X-rated to Gen X to Latinx, the meaning of 'X' has shifted while retaining an edgy, transgressive quality. We trace the meandering semantic route of 'X' through the 20th and 21st centuries, with help from Afro-Latinx writer Jack Qu'emi, retired linguistics professor Ron Smyth and film historian Adrian Smith.

Apr 03 2018

26mins

Play

The three-letter-word that rocked a nation

Podcast cover
Read more
In 2012, a little known Swedish press published a children’s book that sparked a nationwide debate. The debate wasn’t about the plot of the book, nor the pictures, but concerned a three-letter word used by the main character of the story. That word was the relatively new, gender neutral pronoun “hen.” Traditionally, Swedish does not have a gender neutral pronoun for people. "Hen" tapped into an ongoing conversation in the country was already having about gender and equality.This week on the podcast we go to Sweden and examine whether gender neutral language can help shape shift societal views on gender equality.

This is part of a series on language and gender in collaboration with the Across Women's Lives project. For more stories on language and gender around the globe head to: www.pri.org/acrosswomenslives.

Thanks to engineer Tina Tobey and Nathalie Rothschild for help on the podcast.

Mar 27 2018

29mins

Play

A British Mx Tape

Podcast cover
Read more
The UK is obsessed with honorifics. Remember, this is the land of Barons and Earls and Ladies and Sirs and the ultimate HRH, "Her Royal Highness." But even if you can't claim HRH, selecting "Mr." or "Mrs." or "Miss" is a standard part of filling out many forms and documents. Very often these titles are gendered. But what if you don't identify with either gender? Or what if you don't want to reveal your marital status? Some folks are trying to ensure that you don't have to be a doctor or a reverend to claim a gender neutral title.This week on the podcast we take a look at the campaign for the gender neutral honorific "Mx." in the UK. Where does the honorific come from? And how has language and gender has been debated in the UK since the days of Shakespeare. This is the first part of a three-part series exploring language and gender. For the series we have teamed up with the Across Woman's Lives project. Check out more in-depth stories about language and gender around the globe at www.pri.org/acrosswomenslives

Mar 19 2018

27mins

Play

The secretive language of pro wrestling

Podcast cover
Read more
In 1984, the professional wrestler “Dr. D" David Schultz smacked the TV journalist John Stoessel to the ground backstage at Madison Square Garden. Why? One word, kayfabe. If you’ve never heard of the word “kayfabe,” don’t worry. This week on podcast we throw on some tights and get into the ring to explore a word you were never supposed to hear. Plus, there's a lot of excellent, throw-back wrestling tunes.

Mar 09 2018

32mins

Play

Could Neanderthals talk?

Podcast cover
Read more
Humans are the only creatures on Earth that can choke on their own food. Yes, that’s right. Because we have funky plumbing. There’s a crucial split in our throats – one path that leads to the esophagus and the stomach, and another that leads to our larynx, or voice box. Why would humans have evolved such potentially fatal architecture? Some experts say the reason is speech, suggesting speech might pre-date Homo sapiens, going back to Neanderthals, or even Homo erectus, our likely ancestors from millions of years ago. This is all theoretical of course. There are no million-year-old recordings. But some of these ideas are gaining steam. This week on the podcast, reporter Ari Daniel from our partner program NOVA explores several theories about where language comes from.

Feb 21 2018

23mins

Play

The rules of bilingual love

Podcast cover
Read more
He wrote to her mainly in Swedish, and she replied in Finnish. The correspondence of "Finlandia" composer Jean Sibelius and his wife Aino is funny and touching. And their letters are a goldmine for the study of code-switching.

Feb 13 2018

23mins

Play

Ivanka, meet Stalin

Podcast cover
Read more
In which we hear from another Ivanka, another Stalin and another Lenin. Ivanka's brush with fame came thanks to Donald Trump's carelessness on Twitter. But Stalin and Lenin were purposely given their names, by parents in the Indian state of Kerala. Do they have a date with destiny?

Jan 30 2018

28mins

Play

Losing your accent

Podcast cover
Read more
English is spoken with countless accents by both native and non-native speakers. But a hierarchy persists: there are 'good accents and 'bad' ones. So whether you're from Thailand or Tennessee, you may want to get rid of your accent. We hear from a few such people, and from someone who has no interest in changing his accent.

Jan 12 2018

18mins

Play

The words of 2017

Podcast cover
Read more
What are the words and images that best describe this past year? And why do some people think "whom" is obsolete? We talk with Buzzfeed's copy chief Emmy Favilla and Cartoon Queen Carol Hills who monitors political cartoons from around the world.

Dec 20 2017

26mins

Play

My voice is my passport – verify me

Podcast cover
Read more
Remember the 1990’s flick Sneakers with Robert Redford? Robert Redford’s character leads a group of hackers on a mission to steal a decoder from the NSA. And there’s a part in the film when Redford needs to bypass security to sneak into a building. Only problem, the security is a voice activated; at least in 1992 that might’ve been a problem. Today, if José Sotelo has anything to do with it, Redford’s crew need not worry about imitating a voice.. Sotelo co-founded a start-up called Lyrebird that can synthesize your voice with as little as one minute of recording.

This week on the podcast: computers speak.

We talk about the original chat bot “ELIZA” who created as a therapy bot and , yes, was named after Eliza Doolittle. We look into the history of speech synthesis from brazen heads of the medieval times to the animated tones of the Voder, the electronic attempt to replicate speech. And best of all Patrick Cox has his voice synthesized.

Plus, we fret about the ethical implications of it all. How will this technology further erode our notion of truth? Are we entering a black mirror moment?

Dec 13 2017

26mins

Play