The World in Words

The World in Words

From PRI

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/languageMore from The World in Words »

Most Recent Episodes

Sorry we killed off your language

The Canadian government eliminated many indigenous languages by sending children to church-run boarding schools. But the government has apologized and pledged to help bring back those languages. In British Columbia, the Ktunaxa language is making a modest comeback.

So, what are your pronouns?

What pronouns do you use? Have you ever been asked? Do you ask others their pronouns? This week on the podcast, we hand over the reins to our talented summer intern Paulus van Horne to share a very personal story about pronouns. In the spring of 2016, Paulus came out as non-binary at college, asking friends and teachers to use the gender neutral pronouns they/them their. This summer at The World, Paulus came out for the first time at a workplace. This is their story.

The Last Native Speakers of Hawaiian

Hawaiian is often offered up as a language revitalization success story, a model for other endangered languages to follow. But language revitalization isn't so simple. While activists are reviving the Hawaiian language, opening up pre-schools, teaching thousands of second language learners there was and still is a small group of native speakers who have never lost the language, a group of native Hawaiians from the island of Niihau. This week The World in Words takes a trip to the Hawaiian Islands to meet some of Hawaii's last native speakers. How have they managed to hold onto the language? What struggles do they face going forward? Is the variation of Hawaiian that the Niihau speak different from the language spoken by the activists leading the Hawaiian revitalization movement?

Arabic as Americans hear it

This just in: Arabic is not a violent ideology. It is a language that a handful of Americans are learning and loving.

Live show: From Ainu to Zaza

Nina, Patrick and friends record this episode in front of a live audience at the New York Public Library. They discuss the rewards and challenges of language revitalization, complete with singalongs and a few dodgy jokes.

Deciphering the world's strangest encyclopedia

In the late 1970s the writer Alberto Manguel was working in Milan for an Italian publisher that had taken to publishing hidden or little-known manuscripts found in secret libraries. One day the publishing house received a package that contained a strange manuscript written in incomprehensible script. There was no note with the manuscript. No sign of who sent it or where it came from. This manuscript was more than strange, it was as if the publishing house had been gifted the encyclopedia of an alien planet with diagrams of everything on that planet from microbes to fantastical beasts to unusual vehicles and houses, the elements of a completely unknown civilization, all described in a strange swirly script. A note soon followed from the author of the text, Luigi Serafini. This week on The World in Words podcast, a mystery of encyclopedic proportions.

Deciphering the world's strangest encyclopedia

Who in Japan speaks Ainu?

Japan's indigenous Ainu language is a mystery. Russian-born Anna Bugaeva is one of several non-Ainu linguists who have become semi-fluent in the language. They are on a mission to document Ainu, and figure out where it came from, before it disappears.

Languages real and unreal

Dutch-born writer Gaston Dorren grew up speaking two languages, fell in love in a third, and added a fourth and fifth along the way. OK, he's obsessed with languages but in much of Europe multilingualism is common. Also, who owns Klingon?

Vikings, Yankees, and funny pronunciation

New England is full of names that have odd and unexpected pronunciations. Woburn is more like WOOOOburn; Billerica gets transformed into Bill-Ricka. One of the more unexpected variations comes from a small town in New Hampshire with a familiar name — Berlin — but a pronunciation that isn't at all like that of the German capital. Instead, it becomes BARlin, with emphasis on the first syllable. This week on the podcast Nina Porzucki sets out to unravel the mystery of how Berlin became "BARlin" as part of our Nametag series on place names. Plus Patrick Cox gets put to the test in pronouncing village names around Norfolk, England, and we speak with a Viking expert who studies place names in Old Norse around England.

Etruscan: a mystery

The Etruscans lived in central Italy more than 2500 years ago. They were "the teachers of our teachers," the Romans. Yet we still can't be sure where they came from. The key to unlocking the Etruscan enigma may lie in genetics and linguistics.

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