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A podcast that's enthusiastic about linguistics by Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne. A weird and deep conversation about language delivered right to your ears the third Thursday of every month. "Joyously nerdy" –Buzzfeed. Listened to all the episodes here and wish there were more? Want to talk with other people who are enthusiastic about linguistics? Get bonus episodes and access to our Discord community at www.patreon.com/lingthusiasm Shownotes and transcripts: www.lingthusiasm.com
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On Lingthusiasm, we've sometimes compared the human vocal tract to a giant meat clarinet, like the vocal folds are the reed and the rest of the throat and mouth is the body of the instrument that shapes the sound in various ways. However, when it comes to talking more precisely about vowels, we need an instrument with a greater degree of flexibilit…
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For tens of thousands of years, humans have transmitted long and intricate stories to each other, which we learned directly from witnessing other people telling them. Many of these collaboratively composed stories were among the earliest things written down when a culture encountered writing, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Mwindo Epic, and …
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It's easy to find claims that certain languages are old or even the oldest, but which one is actually true? Fortunately, there's an easy (though unsatisfying) answer: none of them! Like how humans are all descended from other humans, even though some of us may have longer or shorter family trees found in written records, all human languages are sha…
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Language lets us talk about things that aren't, strictly speaking, entirely real. Sometimes that's an imaginative object (is a toy sword a real sword? how about Excalibur?). Other times, it's a hypothetical situation (such as "if it rains, we'll cancel the picnic" - but neither the picnic nor the rain have happened yet. And they might never happen.…
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Basque is a language of Europe which is unrelated to the Indo-European languages around it or any other recorded language. As a minority language, Basque has faced considerable pressure from Spanish and French, leading to waves of language revitalization movements from the 1960s and 1980s to the present day. Which means that some of the kids who gr…
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When you have a sentence like "I visit them", the word order and the shape of the words tell you that it means something different from "they visit me". However, in a sentence like "I laugh", you don't actually need those signals -- since there's only one person in the sentence, the meaning would be just as clear if the sentence read "Me laugh" or …
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Pointing creates an invisible line between a part of your body and the thing you're pointing at. Humans are really good at producing and understanding pointing, and it seems to be something that helps babies learn to talk, but only a few animals manage it: domestic dogs can follow a point but wolves can't. (Cats? Look, who knows.) There are lots of…
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Young kids growing up in Guatemala often learn Q’anjob’al, Kaq’chikel, or another Mayan language from their families and communities. But they don’t live next to the kinds of major research universities that do most of the academic studies about how kids learn languages. Figuring out what these kids are doing is part of a bigger push to learn more …
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Linguists are often interested in comparing several languages or dialects. To make this easier, it’s useful to have data that’s relatively similar across varieties, so that the differences really pop out. But what exactly needs to be similar or different varies depending on what we’re investigating. For example, to compare varieties of English, we …
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In the sentence “the horse has eaten an apple”, what is the word “has” doing? It’s not expressing ownership of something, like in “the horse has an apple”. (After all, the horse could have very sneakily eaten the apple.) Rather, it’s helping out the main verb, eat. Many languages use some of their verbs to help other verbs express grammatical infor…
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The magical kind of spell and the written kind of spell are historically linked. This reflects how saying a word can change the state of the world, both in terms of fictional magic spells that set things on fire or make them invisible, and in terms of the real-world linguistic concept of performative utterances, which let us agree to contracts, pla…
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Spoken languages can change the pitch or melody of words to convey several different kinds of information. When the pitch affects the meaning of the whole phrase, such as rising to indicate a question in English, linguists call it intonation. When the pitch affects the meaning of an individual word, such as the difference between mother (high mā) a…
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Communicating is about more than the literal, dictionary-entry-style words that we say -- it’s also about the many subtle ingredients that go into a message, from how you keep your audience in mind to how you portray the actions of the people you’re talking about. In this episode, your host Gretchen McCulloch interviews Dr. Gabrielle Hodge, a deaf …
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Singapore is a small city-state nation with four official languages: English, Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay. Most Singaporeans can also speak a local hybrid variety known as Singlish, which arose from this highly multilingual environment to create something unique to the island. An important part of growing up in Singapore is learning which of your la…
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Language names come from many sources. Sometimes they’re related to a geographical feature or name of a group of people. Sometimes they’re related to the word for “talk” or “language” in the language itself; other times the name that outsiders call the language is completely different from the insider name. Sometimes they come from mistakes: a name…
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Emotions are a universal part of the human experience, but the specific ways we express them are mediated through language. For example, English uses the one word “love” for several distinct feelings: familial love, romantic love, platonic love, and loving things (I love this ice cream!), whereas Spanish distinguishes lexically between the less int…
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We use questions to ask people for information (who’s there?), but we can also use them to make a polite request (could you pass me that?), to confirm social understanding (what a game, eh), and for stylistic effect, such as ironic or rhetorical questions (who knows!). In this episode, your hosts Lauren Gawne and Gretchen McCulloch get enthusiastic…
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Maps of languages of the world are fun to look at, but they’re also often suspiciously precise: a suspiciously round number of languages, like 7000, mapped to dots or coloured zones with suspiciously exact and un-overlapping locations. And yet, if you’ve ever eavesdropped on people on public transit, you know that any given location often plays hos…
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What’s the “it’s” in “it’s three pm and hot”? How do you write a cough in the International Phonetic Alphabet? Who is the person most likely to speak similarly to a randomly-selected North American English speaker? In this episode, your hosts Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne get enthusiastic about absurd hypothetical linguistic questions with sp…
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Partway down your throat are two flaps of muscle. When you breathe normally, you pull the flaps away to the sides, and air comes out silently. But if you stretch the flaps across the opening of your throat while pushing air up through, you can make them vibrate in the breeze and produce all sorts of sounds -- sort of like the mucousy reed of a gian…
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Your brain is where language - and all of your other thinking - happens. In order to figure out how language fits in among all of the other things you do with your brain, we can put people in fancy brain scanning machines and then create very controlled setups where exactly one thing is different. For example, comparing looking at words versus nonw…
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Sometimes, we use language to make definite statements about how the world is. Other times, we get more hypothetical, and talk about how things could be. What can happen. What may occur. What might be the case. What will happen (or would, if only we should have known!) What we must and shall end up with. In other words, we use a part of language kn…
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When societies of humans come into contact, they’ll often pick up words from each other. When this is happening actively in the minds of multilingual people, it gets called codeswitching; when it happened long before anyone alive can remember, it’s more likely to get called etymology. But either way, this whole spectrum is a kind of borrowing. In t…
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The Rosetta Stone is famous as an inscription that let us read Egyptian hieroglyphs again, but it was created in the first place as part of a long history of signage as performative multilingualism in public places. Choosing between languages is both very personal but it’s not only personal -- it’s also a reflection of the way that the societies we…
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Let’s say we have the set of words “Lauren”, “Gretchen”, and “visits” and we want to make them into a sentence. The way that we combine these words is going to have a big effect on who’s packing their bags and who’s sitting at home with the kettle on. In English, our two sentences look like “Gretchen visits Lauren” and “Lauren visits Gretchen” -- b…
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