The World in Words: A Fantastic Podcast

by | February 17, 2016 |

If you love language, you will love Public Radio International’s The World in Words weekly podcast.

I’m very picky when people talk about language, and every podcast I’ve heard so far is spot on. “A death in the family” has Bradley Campbell, another producer on the show, talking about how his Honduran-born father decided to “kill” Spanish in the household. As a result Bradley is a monolingual English speaker now trying to learn Spanish as an adult. Bradley’s experience is, sadly, that of many of his fellow Americans.

I am absolutely thrilled the podcast has a recurring theme of telling language revitalization stories, with focus on Native American languages. There is hardly a topic in linguistics that interests me more at the moment. I was grabbed by the “Raising the Dead” podcast, which is about the Shinnecock language revival in… wait for it … The Hamptons, yes, Long Island. My most recent association with The Hamptons was the TV show Royal Pains. Cute show, but I like the language revival there much better!

High on my fave list is the interview with French stand-up comedian Gad Elmaleh. If you’ve never heard of him, catch him with Jerry Seinfeld in Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Gad decided to learn come to the United States to learn English so he could do stand-up in English. Why? His explanation is that you go to France to make wine, you go to Italy to open a pasta factory, you go to Germany to build cars, and you go to England to write plays. The people in these countries are the best of the best of what they do. And why go to the U.S. to do stand-up? Because we have the best stand-up.

Yup, that’s what we do.

the world in wordsJust before writing this blog post, I listened to “Three mothers tongues in one” about the language situation in Lebanon where Arabic, French and English mingle to make it’s own unique language. T-shirts in Beirut can be seen with a slogan that’s become the unofficial name of the Lebanese mother tongue: Hi (English), kifak (Arabic: ‘friend’), ça va? (French: ‘how’s it going?’)

Cross-linguistic punning is apparently common. Lebanese speakers might say “kiss me again” in a situation where an English speaker might say “shit.” It turns out kiss is not a nice word in Arabic, but it gets prettied up in an English phrase. So lots of fun.

This particular podcast also mentions the language revival of the Lakota. This language was once spoken by a tribe Sioux Indians, which included the great warriors Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Mention of the documentary Rising Voices, about the Lakota revival, is made. It’s a beautiful film.

Some further podcasts that surprised and delighted me: “Eddie Izzard Will Make You Laugh in Four Languages,” “Signing with Philly Accent” (about the variety of American Sign Language signed in Philadelphia), “What’s the Deal With the Pop Punk Accent,” and “Talking Texan in Iran.” I hope the titles alone whet your appetite.

I found out about The World in Words when the producer, Nina Porzucki, contacted me last month about interviewing me for Valentine’s Day. She was looking for a linguist to talk about the language of love … and she found me, a linguist who is also a romance writer! I’m not sure when my The World in Words podcast will be up, but it doesn’t matter for this blog, because I’m less interested here in touting mine and more eager to turn you on to the other wonderful podcasts I’ve been listening to.

Another good reason to listen to the show is to enjoy Nina’s delightful laugh.

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See also: All My Languages Blogs

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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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