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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.

Location:

Boston, MA

Networks:

PRI

Description:

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.

Twitter:

@pritheworld

Language:

English

Contact:

The World WGBH Educational Foundation One Guest Street Boston, MA 02135 617-300-5750


Episodes
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The language that gave Missouri its name

6/12/2024
Many place names in the United States are borrowed from Native American words. It's often hard to trace the roots. Over time, the original names were often transformed beyond recognition, victims of mangled pronunciation. Suzanne Hogan is our guide to the origins of Missouri, a name rooted in the Chiwere language. Chiwere has been imperiled for generations but kept alive by the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, and by one tribe member in particular: Truman Washington Dailey, a pioneer of North American language revitalization. Suzanne Hogan is the host of the podcast, A People's History of Kansas City. Read more about this episode here, and more about the Otoe-Missouria Tribe here. A People's History of Kansas City is supported by the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri. Music in this episode courtesy of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe. Other music by Gunnar Johnsen, Blue Dot Sessions, Medité, and Trabant 33. The photo shows a delegation of the Otoe-Missouria tribe in 1881. (Credit: John K. Hillers / Gilman Collection, Metropolitan Museum Of Art.) Sign up for Subtitle’s fortnightly newsletter here.

Duration:00:33:32

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Presenting Home, Interrupted

5/29/2024
In this episode, we're handing over the reins to the podcast series, Home, Interrupted, produced by Feet in 2 Worlds. The series explores how the climate crisis affects immigrants across the U.S., and how immigrant communities are finding new ways to deal with a warming planet. In this episode, reporter Allison Salerno tells the stories of migrant farmworkers in Florida who face increasingly hazardous conditions. State lawmakers have blocked legislation to protect them, so farmworkers are now seeking help from outside groups who are donating ice packs, cooling bandanas, water with electrolytes and other things to help keep them alive. More on this episode here, and on the Home, Interrupted series here. The photo of Elena Contreras and her mother Mirella Contreras, a former migrant farmworker who now is an organizer for the Farmworker Association of Florida, is by Allison Salerno. Sign up for Subtitle’s newsy, nerdy, fortnightly newsletter here.

Duration:00:26:01

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Icelandic, the language that recycles everything

5/15/2024
Icelanders are protective of their language. When a new piece of tech or a new disease emerges, people debate what to call these things in Icelandic. New words must sound and look Icelandic, otherwise they may not survive. The country's Knitting Words Committee is one of dozens of community panels charged with proposing new words. Typically, they repurpose old words that have fallen out of use. Who doesn't want to revive a word or phrase from Iceland's sagas? In this episode, we take you to Iceland to discover how, seemingly, an entire nation has coalesced around the maxim, "We have a very good old word for that." Music in this episode by Taomito, Silver Maple, pär, Medité, Nathan Welch, and Trabant 33. Photo of Hulda Hákonardóttir and Guðrún Hannele Henttinen of Iceland's Knitting Words Committee by Patrick Cox. Read a transcript of the episode here. And sign up for Subtitle’s newsy, nerdy, fortnightly newsletter here.

Duration:00:20:07

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The bilingual edge: what the research says

5/1/2024
In recent decades, Americans' perception of bilingualism has been transformed. As recently as the 1990s, the prevailing belief was that if a child grew up bilingual, they would be at a linguistic and cognitive disadvantage. Today, many Americans believe the opposite, that speaking more than one language carries advantages. But the hundreds of studies of the bilingual brain don't all draw the same conclusions. In this episode, we sample some recent research whose findings are helping to paint a more nuanced picture of how bilingual speakers function differently from monolinguals. Music in this episode by Walt Adams, Blue Dot Sessions, Medité, Podington Bear and Trabant 33. Photo of a bilingual street sign in Sydney's Chinatown by Jordanopia/Wikimedia Commons. Read a transcript of the episode here. And sign up for Subtitle’s newsy, nerdy, fortnightly newsletter here.

Duration:00:26:38

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How Basque speakers saved their language

4/17/2024
How did Basque survive Spain's military dictatorship under Francisco Franco when speaking, writing and reading it were illegal? With more than six dialects, how did its speakers agree on a standard way of writing the language? And how has Basque thrived in the decades since Franco died? Nina Porzucki tells the story of Europe's most mysterious language and its tenacious speakers— a story that includes immigration to the American West, decades of exile in South America, translations of Shakespeare's plays and an epic struggle over the letter H. Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions, Josef Falkensköld, and Trabant 33.Photo of participants in a relay ‘marathon’ in support of the Basque language by Tintxarri via Wikimedia Commons. Info about Nina Porzucki here. Read a transcript of the episode here. And sign up for Subtitle’s newsy, nerdy, fortnightly newsletter here.

Duration:00:34:23

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Chinese sci-fi has crossed the translation barrier

4/4/2024
Netflix's lavish new adaptation of Liu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem is the latest 'translation' of one of this century's best, and best-selling, sci-fi novels. In this episode, we track the role of translation—on screen and on the page—in the global rise of Chinese sci-fi. Our guide is reporter and sci-fi aficionada Lydia Emmanouilidou who talks with several people involved in the Chinese literary scene, notably The Three-Body Problem's English translator Ken Liu. More about Lydia Emmanouilidou here. Music in this episode by Ambre Jaune, Medité, Pearce Roswell and Trabant 33. Read a transcript of the episode here. And sign up for Subtitle’s newsy, nerdy, fortnightly newsletter here.

Duration:00:30:25

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Why the French use the English word ‘black’

3/20/2024
The French language is replete with words borrowed from English, like 'weekend' and 'podcasting.' But French speakers' use of 'black' is in a category of its own: this one short syllable tells the story of France's racial and colonial legacies and how they stack up against U.S. history, from slavery to Black Lives Matter. Both countries are idealistic, rooted in 18th-century revolutions and grand principles. But while many in the US value racial and ethnic difference, France sees itself as a color-blind society that rejects the race-based policies of its past. So, using the French word noir is almost un-French—prompting many Black French citizens to embrace 'black.' Reporting this episode is former Paris resident, Emma Jacobs. More about Emma Jacobs here and here. Music by Martin Klem, Medité, Trabant 33, Podington Bear and Blue Dot Sessions. Photo by Lea Dasenka. Read a transcript of this episode here. And sign up for Subtitle’s newsy, nerdy, fortnightly newsletter here.

Duration:00:21:59

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The Irish language renaissance

3/6/2024
Irish is among Europe's oldest languages. It's a near miracle that anyone speaks it today. Patrick talks with online Irish teacher Mollie Guidera whose students include a Kentucky farmer who speaks Irish to his horses; also with Irish scholar Jim McCloskey who developed a love of the language when he spent a summer living with Irish speakers. Irish is changing fast, with far more of its speakers learning it as a second language, while the native-speaker population declines. Music by Elliot Holmes, Zorro,Hugo Paquette, Medité, and Fleurs Douces. Photo courtesy of Mollie Guidera. Read a transcript of this episode, with more photos here. And sign up for Subtitle’s newsy, nerdy, fortnightly newsletter here.

Duration:00:34:45

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From linguistic shame to pride

2/21/2024
Israel Jesus used to be ashamed of being from the Mexican state of Oaxaca and speaking the local indigenous tongue, Triqui. When he moved to Salinas, California, a kid in his high school told Jesus he was destined to work in the fields nearby. But it was his knowledge of Triqui that sent him on a different path. A hospital in Salinas recruited Jesus to interpret for the increasing number of Triqui-speaking patients. It's part of an effort in California and beyond to expand medical interpretation to Mexico's many indigenous languages. This episode was reported by Nina Porzucki. Music by Alexander Boyes, Blue Dot Sessions, Grupo Sin Control, Medité, and Podington Bear. Photo of Israel Jesus by Nina Porzucki. Read a transcript, with many more photos, here. And sign up for Subtitle’s newsy, nerdy, fortnightly(ish) newsletter here.

Duration:00:32:41

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Easing into multilingualism

2/7/2024
Mastering six languages sounds like a slog, right? But in some corners of Europe, it happens—maybe not effortlessly, but more easily than in, say, Ohio. Gaston Dorren grew up speaking Limburgish at home, and Dutch at school. He fell in love in German and picked up Spanish in Latin America, all the while keeping English and French in his back pocket. He tells Patrick about his love of verbing nouns, and Dutch people's unconsciously sexist choice of pronouns. Also, Gaston is a fabulous multilingual (of course) singer. Gaston Dorren has written several books including two translated into English. The photo shows him in in a typically multilingual moment on vacation in Turkey. He is reading the German translation of book originally written in English: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka. (Photo credit: Marleen Becker) Music in this episode by Medité, Magnus Ringblom, Podington Bear and Trabant 33. Read a transcript here. Sign up for Subtitle’s newsy, nerdy, fortnightly(ish) newsletter here.

Duration:00:20:41

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How the brain of an improv performer works

1/24/2024
Does the brain of an improv comedian or freestyle rapper function in a particular way? Is it processing language faster than a regular, lower-improvising brain? Or is something else also going on, something to do with how we judge ourselves? We asked our pal Ari Daniel to look into this. He found a group of researchers and a group of professional improvisers working together on some of these questions. Photo of Dutch-based comedy improv group Easy Laughs by Robin Straaijer. Music in this episode by Fleslit, Magnus Ringblom and Trabant 33. Read a transcript here. Sign up for Subtitle’s newsy, nerdy, fortnightly(ish) newsletter here.

Duration:00:24:22

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Sugar Sammy’s multilingual comedy

12/13/2023
A conversation with comedian with Samir Khullar who grew up speaking Punjabi, Hindi, English and French. He does standup in all those languages, sometimes mixing them up. He has toured more than 40 countries, but audiences in his native Québec perhaps see the best of him. That's where he performs a bilingual French/English show called You're Gonna Rire (and now, You're Gonna Rire 2). As a Quebecer/Québécois, Sugar Sammy's comedy exposes the absurdity of language politics while also celebrating multilingualism and difference. Photo of Sugar Sammy by Charles William Pelletier/Creative Commons. Check out Sugar Sammy's tour dates here. Music in this episode by Jules Gaia, Josef Falkensköld, Stationary Sign, and August Wilhelmsson. Read a transcript here. Sign up for Subtitle's newsy, nerdy, fortnightly(ish) newsletter here.

Duration:00:20:18

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Is Mx here to stay?

11/29/2023
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. Sign up for the Subtitle newsletter here.

Duration:00:29:02

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Americans, Brits and the foreignness of English

11/15/2023
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. Sign up for Subtitle’s newsletter here.

Duration:00:24:32

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A German-speaking outpost in the American Midwest

11/1/2023
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. Sign up for Subtitle’s action-packed newsletter here.

Duration:00:28:00

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Season 4 is coming

10/18/2023
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.

Duration:00:02:57

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The precious secrets of Udi

11/16/2022
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. Sign up for Subtitle's newsletter here.

Duration:00:24:46

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The future sound of Black English

11/2/2022
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. Read a transcript of the episode here. And sign up for Subtitle's newsletter here.

Duration:00:18:34

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How music has shaped African American speech

10/19/2022
Guest host Ciku Theuri speaks with music writer Jordannah Elizabeth about the intimate relationship between music and Black American speech. That connection was never closer than in the 1930s and 40s when Cab Calloway's Hepster Dictionary and Sister Rosetta Tharpe's groundbreaking rock 'n' roll established new artistic and linguistic pathways. This is the second of our three-part series on African American English. Jordannah Elizabeth is the founder of the Feminist Jazz Review and author of the upcoming A Child’s Introduction to Hip Hop. Music excerpts in this episode by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Cab Calloway and His Orchestra, The Ink Spots, Roscoe Dash, Gucci Mane, Tems, Nbhd Nick and Sarah, the Illstrumentalist. Photo of Bill Robinson, Lena Horne and Cab Calloway from the 1943 musical film, Stormy Weather, via Wikimedia Commons. Read a transcript of the episode here. Subscribe to Subtitle’s newsletter here.

Duration:00:17:17

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Where did African American English come from?

10/5/2022
Are the roots of African American English mainly African? Or English? Or something else? Linguists—and others—don't agree. Ciku Theuri guides us through the theories. Opinions from Nicole Holliday, John McWhorter, John Rickford and Sunn m'Cheaux, who we also profiled in a previous Subtitle episode. Music in this episode by A P O L L O, Jobii, and Tilden Parc. Photo of Michelle Obama by Pete Souza via Wikimedia Commons. Read a transcript of the episode here. Subscribe to Subtitle's fortnightly newsletter here.

Duration:00:23:32