Subtitle 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.
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Subtitle

From Radiotopia

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.

Most Recent Episodes

A language that survived the boarding schools

Gwich'in is among Alaska's most threatened languages. but Princess Daazhraii Johnson is determined to change that. Her mother, she says, was of "that boarding school generation that was hit for speaking Gwich'in." Today, more Gwich'in people are learning their language, and kids are exposed to it by shows like PBS' Molly of Denali. In this [...]

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.

The dots and their future

Will technology make Braille obsolete as a primary reading tool for blind people? Will talking apps and audiobooks win out over embossed dots? It's possible, but Braille has been written off 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.

The language closest to English

You may not have heard of Frisian, but it's spoken by about 500,000 people. Once upon a time, an older form of the language was barely distinct from Old English. We take you to the Dutch province of Friesland to hear why people there care so deeply about their mother tongue. Texting, social media, music [...]

My notorious name

Digital consultant Ivanka Majic was such an early user of Twitter that she was able to snag the handle @Ivanka. Which was great, until the rise of another Ivanka caused confusion. Many Twitter users— including the other Ivanka's father— mistook one for the other. In this archive episode, Ivanka Majic tells the story of her brush with fame, and how the name she was innocently given at birth has affected her. Also, Subtitle host Kavita Pillay discusses her in-the-works documentary about people in southern India who are named after Lenin, Stalin and other political heroes of their parents. The music in this episode is by Blue Dot Sessions and Podington Bear. The photo on the left is courtesy of Ivanka Majic; on the right from the US Embassy, Berlin, via Flickr. Listen here to Michael and Ivanka's Grand Podcast. Read a transcript of the episode here.