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Preview: PRI's The World: The World in Words from PRI/BBC/WGBH

The World in Words

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 li


Welcome to the American family

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 15:30:00 -0500

US politicians have been using the word, 'assimilation' for more than a century. How has it evolved? What does it mean in Trump's America? And how is 'assimilation' understood differently in other countries like France? Nina enlists Rupa Shenoy, host of PRI's Otherhood podcast to try to figure it out, while Patrick seeks to banish the word, 'ex-pat.'

Media Files:

Speaking Yiddish to the dead

Wed, 08 Nov 2017 16:00:00 -0500

In 2000, American poet Jennifer Kronovet began taking Yiddish classes for just one reason: to translate Yiddish poetry into English.

A 1923 studio portrait of the In zikh ("Introspectivist") poetry group.  Celia Dropkin is surrounded by (clockwise from bottom left): Jacob Stodolsky, Aaron Glanz-Leyeles, B. Alquit, Mikhl Likht, N. B. Minkoff, Jacob Glatstein.

Courtesy of Yiddishkayt

Media Files:

Bash the Fash

Wed, 25 Oct 2017 14:45:00 -0400

"Antifa." The buzzword of the summer, especially after Charlottesville. Reporter Lidia Jean Kott explores how "antifa" came into being in 1930s Germany-- and how it was resurrected in 21st century America. WARNING: this episode has explicit language and content.

A drawing, called "Resist," of David-Jon, an antifa activist from Portland, Oregon. 

Kiaha Rasmussen

Media Files:

Dubbing with benefits

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 02:30:00 -0400

Dubbed TV and movies suck, right? Those odd-sounding voices and that lamely-synchronized dialogue? In Germany, it's not like that. Dubbing it a highly evolved craft, with actors who specialize in voiceover and writers who genuinely improve the dialogue. The pod goes to Berlin to find out why Germans are so good at (and so addicted to) dubbing.

Nadine Heidenreich, left, and Viktor Neumann are German voice actors who dub the characters Rosita Espinosa and Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead. They're pictured here at EuroSync studios in Berlin.

Marcus Posimski

Media Files:

How to speak like an aliebn

Wed, 27 Sep 2017 13:00:00 -0400

When Twitter comedian Jonny Sun began to write his book, "everyone's a aliebn when ur a aliebn too," he had to write down the rules of the cutesy grammar of the language he invented.

An excerpt from Jomny Sun's book, "everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too," is shown. 

Harper Collins

Media Files:

Who are the People?

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 15:15:00 -0400

Germans do not agree what the word 'Volk' means. Does it denote ethnic Germans or people who live in Germany? The Nazis racialized 'Volk' and its derivatives. Now Germany's New Right are reviving some of these terms.

A supporter of the anti-Muslim group PEGIDA in Dresden, Germany.

Patrick Cox/PRI

Media Files:

Deciphering the Lingo of Pro-Trump Trolls

Wed, 23 Aug 2017 16:00:00 -0400

In the run up to the presidential election Cristina López kept coming across language on the internet that she didn’t quite understand; words and phrases like “meme magic,” and “red-pilled” and “nimble navigator.” These expressions kept popping up in Reddit and 4chan on Trump supporter message boards. “It felt like I was looking in to a group and I didn’t understand the group joke,” said Cristina. But understanding the group joke is Cristina’s job. She works for a non-profit called Media Matters For America, a left leaning non-profit that monitors the conservative media for misinformation. Since the election Cristina and her colleagues have spent many hours lurking on these message boards deciphering the words and memes of what she calls the #MAGA troll dialect. This week on the podcast Cristina Lopez explains some of the dialect.

"Remember all I'm offering is the truth" - The Matrix


Media Files:

Zappa for Germans

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 15:30:00 -0400

Who was Frank Zappa? Virtuoso guitarist? Modernist composer? Smutty lyricist? Anti-censorship activist? All of the above....and in much more the former East Germany. There his banned records fetched small fortunes among rebellious young men who dreamed of freedom. We spend 30 minutes in the company of one such man who now runs a Zappa-themed festival. We also hear from an American translator who explains Zappa's obscure lyrics to German fans, line by line.

Bad Doberan, Germany is the home of Zappanale, an annual summer festival inspired by the life and work of Frank Zappa.

Patrick Cox/PRI

Media Files:

To Catch a Fortune Cookie Thief

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 12:15:00 -0400

This week on the podcast producer Lidia Jean Kott cracks open a case of fortune cookie theft. "Some men dream of fortunes. Others dream of cookies." This is a real fortune cookie fortune. A prescient fortune it would turn out for Yong Sik Lee. Lee invented the fully automatic fortune cookie machine and built a business on his invention. He sold fortune cookie machines and fortunes to companies all over the US. It was a good business, until one day somebody stole it all from him. Lidia Jean gets to the bottom of a theft that forever changed the life of Lee. She also gets explores the eternal question: Why are fortune cookie fortunes never really fortunes? And where do fortune cookies come from anyway? Hint: It's not China.

How did fortunes become a staple at Chinese restaurants in the US?  

Megan Swan/Museum of Food and Drink 


Media Files:

Grandmothers have the best curse words

Wed, 12 Jul 2017 15:30:00 -0400

This week on The World in Words we talk about swear words from around the world and the bad words our grandmothers teach us. We hear from swearologist Stephen Dodson and author Marilyn Chin. Plus, Nina Porzucki interviews her grandmother about the meaning of a Polish word.

Media Files:

'Dialect' versus 'language,' what's the big deal?!

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 15:30:00 -0400

This week on the podcast we step gingerly into scalding waters to explore the question: What is the difference between a language and dialect? Linguists hate to define it. “As a linguist I will not engage in trying to define language and trying to define dialect and I’m not alone in that,” said linguist Bojan Belić. He’s certainly not alone. We reached out to linguists and language experts and were met with sigh after sigh. There are many rubrics that people cite as indicators of a dialect versus a language. Take mutual intelligibility. Two varieties of speech that are mutually intelligible surely must be dialects. But what happens when they’re not? Then there’s the old cliché, coined apparently by a Yiddish scholar, “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.” Is language and dialect purely politics? This week we discuss two places where these labels might make you scratch your head: Scandinavia and the Balkans.

Media Files:

Vladimir Trump

Tue, 13 Jun 2017 16:00:00 -0400

Many Russians perceive Donald Trump as an American version of Vladimir Putin. It's partly based on Trump's bombastic rhetoric, but also on how his speeches and tweets are translated into Russian.

A protester holds up a sign at an anti-Trump demonstration in Washington, DC.

Susan Melkisethian

Media Files:

Straight Outta Siberia

Wed, 24 May 2017 14:45:00 -0400

Linguist Edward Vajda went to Siberia with a hunch. He returned with evidence linking a remote Siberian language with Navajo.

Linguist Edward Vajda with a Ket woman in her home village in Siberia, Russia. 

Courtesy of Edward Vajda

Media Files:

In Moldova, speaking the wrong language once had serious consequences

Tue, 09 May 2017 12:30:00 -0400

This week, The World in Words podcast visits the Moldova Authentic Restaurant in Newton, Massachusetts. Patrick Cox and Nina Porzucki talk with restaurant owners Artur and Sandra Andronic about their mother tongue. Also, what happens if you put a group of monolingual speakers of different languages on a deserted island? Linguist Derek Bickerton was determined to find out.

Moldovan Flag

Nicolas Raymond

Media Files:

The words that divide Indian-Americans

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 15:15:00 -0400

Sonia Paul grew up California, the child of immigrants from India and the Philippines. No wonder she's fascinated by the heated debates among Indian-Americans over how school textbooks characterize Hinduism and caste.

A protest in Sacramento, California. 

Sonia Paul

Media Files:

Elena Ferrante & Italy's Linguistic Past

Tue, 11 Apr 2017 13:15:00 -0400

Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels have become a global hit. Their plot is rife with love and sex and the mob AND language. This week on the podcast we explore Italy's linguistic history and the tensions between Italian dialects like Neapolitan and the lingua franca. BONUS: Patrick Cox will sing for you in his best Italian accent.

Book Jacket from "My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante

Europa Editions

Media Files:

How Christianese became a thing

Wed, 29 Mar 2017 15:45:00 -0400

Have you attended any “Matthew parties” lately? Or ever felt “too blessed to be stressed, too anointed to be disappointed”? If the answer is yes, you speak Christianese, a "religiolect" that linguists have recently started tracking.

Screenshot from a parody video made by Christian singer Micah Tyler.


Media Files:

Arabic's Jewish dialect

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 15:45:00 -0400

The Arab world used to be home to hundreds of thousands of Jews who spoke their own variants of Arabic. Today, Judeo-Arabic survives only in exile. We hear stories of language and exodus from three Judeo-Arabic speakers now living in Montreal. Plus, novelist Louie Cronin on satirizing linguistics.

Elsie Solomon, Gladys Kattan and Lisette Shashoua at Lisette's home in Montreal. 

Alina Simone

Media Files:

'Black' is a French word too

Tue, 28 Feb 2017 14:00:00 -0500

Many French people favor the English word 'black' over the local equivalent 'noir.' Why? There's a history behind it that dates back decades— in fact, two histories: the French version seeks to be colorblind while the American one recognizes race at every turn.

Dancer Link Berthomieux says that when French people use the English word "black," "It’s a trendy way to say 'noir.'"




Lea Dasenka

Media Files:

An Iraqi writer in America

Tue, 14 Feb 2017 12:30:00 -0500

Mosul-born Anoud first came to the US when Obama was president. Now she doesn’t dare leave the country. Written in English, her satirical fiction targets ISIS, the international community and even refugees.

Iraqi fiction writer Anoud recently moved to New York. 

Patrick Cox

Media Files:

A Kenyan language rises again

Thu, 26 Jan 2017 15:15:00 -0500

Ekegusii is spoken by about two million Kenyans but has been losing ground to Swahili and English. Now it is taught in some schools, thanks to local language activists assisted by American linguists.

Kenyan language activist Kennedy Bosire has co-edited an online dictionary of his mother tongue, Ekegusii, also know as Kisii. 

Marco Werman

Media Files:

Translating Trump

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 09:00:00 -0500

Trump hotels, Trump wine, Trump golf courses, Trump steaks – we've heard a LOT about how Trump has made millions from his name. In English the word "trump" connotes a certain grandiosity but how does his name translate into other languages? And more importantly what do the translations say about how Trump is viewed in other countries, in other people's minds? This week on the podcast translating Trump. We’ll look at Trump’s name in three different languages: American Sign Language, Mandarin, and Russian. And we enlist the expertise of several Davids and one Jami: Chinese linguist David Moser, The Washington Post's Moscow Bureau Chief David Filipov, Princeton Professor of French language and literature David Bellos, and American Sign Language Coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania, Jami Fisher.

Media Files:

The first cousin of English

Fri, 23 Dec 2016 15:15:00 -0500

Are the 300,000+ Dutch people who speak Frisian stubborn? Maybe...and maybe that's not a bad thing. We head to the Netherlands to hear from artists, writers, politicians and kids at a trilingual school.

Students Andries Jacobi, Nienke Kooi and Fardau de Vries attend a trilingual (Dutch, Frisian, English) public school in Koudum in the Dutch province of Friesland.   

Patrick Cox

Media Files:

What the Cuck?

Wed, 14 Dec 2016 16:00:00 -0500

WARNING: This podcast has explicit language and sexual content. This has been an election season of words: “bigly” or is it “big league,” “basket of deplorables” and you can’t forget “nasty.” But one word has recently caught a lot of people's attention: cuck. It’s a slur being used by white nationalists and white supremacists, the so-called "alt-right,” people like Richard Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute. The deceptively generic sounding organization espouses white nationalist ideology. During their conference held in Washington DC right after the US election, Spencer made headlines by using the phrase “Hail Trump” in his speech. In the same speech he also used the word “cuck.” But long before white nationalist grabbed hold of cuck, the word, which has roots in the ancient insult “cuckold” took some interesting turns in its modern usage. On the podcast this week we focus on the word "cuck." What does it mean? Who uses it? And how did it become the slur of choice for white nationalists? We'll hear from and linguist Michael Adams, sex columnist Dan Savage, and white nationalist Richard Spencer.

Media Files:

The global rise of Swahili

Tue, 22 Nov 2016 11:15:00 -0500

Hakuna Matata. You may recognize this phrase. You may even find yourself humming the earworm-provoking song of the same title from Disney's the Lion King. "It means no worries" goes the lyric. But Disney fails to mention that "Hakuna matata" means "no worries" in Swahili. Swahili – known as Kiswahili in East Africa – has its roots in a small tribal Bantu language spoken along one strip of Africa's eastern coastline. But these days, it's spread across the African continent. Today its spoken by more than 100 million people. More people speak Swahili than Korean or Italian.This week reporter Daniel A. Gross investigates how Swahili became a prominent language on the African continent and increasingly around the globe.

Ujamaa Bookstore in Washington, DC. "Ujamaa" is a Swahili word that means extended family, brotherhood, and socialism. It is also one of the seven principles of the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa.  

Rachel Strohm

Media Files:

The Standing Rock Sioux's other fight

Fri, 18 Nov 2016 13:00:00 -0500

Standing Rock is more than a social movement for clean water rights. It's also where the Lakota language is re-inventing itself.

A Standing Rock Sioux tribal member at Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, North Dakota. A new generation of Standing Rock Sioux are studying the Lakota language. 

Patrick Cox


Media Files:

'I'm Arab but I don't speak Arabic'

Mon, 14 Nov 2016 12:45:00 -0500

The language you would expect to hear in the United Arab Emirates is Arabic. Yet in a place like Dubai, English is the language on the streets, cafés and malls. Many Emiratis struggle in their own mother tongue. When oil was discovered in this mainly desert nation in the late 1950s, money and rapid development followed. An outside workforce poured into the country and a lot of them spoke English. So they communicated in English. At the same time, leaders in the UAE started to view English as the language of future. English entered the schools and classrooms. Slowly English became the lingua franca in the UAE. Arabic, meanwhile, slipped. This week on the podcast, reporter Shirin Jaafari heads to the UAE where she investigates what happened to Arabic in this Arab nation.

A teacher and her students at an advanced Arabic class at a private school in Dubai.

Shirin Jaafari

Media Files:

How do you say 'cancer' in Mixtec?

Wed, 09 Nov 2016 13:30:00 -0500

Folks from Salinas, California like to remind you that their valley is the “Salad Bowl of the World.” Not that you can forget. When you drive around town, everywhere you look there’s fields growing lettuce, strawberries, and broccoli. A growing number of the farm workers picking the broccoli and lettuce from those fields speak neither English nor Spanish but several Native Mexican languages like Mixtec, Triqui, Zapotec. How are these farmworkers navigating life in California speaking their languages? Turns out, it's not so easy. This week on the podcast we visit Natividad Hospital in the town of Salinas on California’s Central Coast. This hospital, surrounded by fields, serves many of the farm workers in the valley. Four of the most commonly spoken languages at the hospital are Native Mexican languages. For years doctors and staff at Natividad struggled to communicate with their indigenous language speaking patients. And finding qualified indigenous language interpreters proved to be difficult. Then hospital officials realized finding indigenous language interpreters was as easy as visiting their own waiting rooms. Many bilingual and trilingual farm workers were already informally interpreting for their family members and friends. What if they trained these folks to become qualified medical interpreters? In the podcast we’ll meet some of Natividad’s indigenous language interpreters. We’ll also head 250 miles south of Salinas to Oxnard, California where a new community radio station is broadcasting in some of these Native Mexican languages.

Israel Jesus speaks and interprets in Spanish, English and Triqui. He learned Triqui while living with his grandparents in Oaxaca before coming to the United States.

Nina Porzucki

Media Files:

Should we learn in two languages?

Thu, 03 Nov 2016 14:00:00 -0400

We know much more about bilingualism than we did 18 years ago when Californians voted to ban bilingual education. What does the research tell us? And will it effect Californians' upcoming re-vote on the issue?

Kimberly Medina, 19, votes during the U.S. presidential primary election at Gates Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, California, on  June 7, 2016. Californians will vote Nov. 8 on a ballot measure that seeks to overturn a ban on bilingual education. 

Marco Anzuoni/Reuters

Media Files:

Speak perfectly or don't speak at all

Tue, 01 Nov 2016 18:00:00 -0400

The Keres language, spoken by the Laguna Pueblo of New Mexico, is dying. When younger tribal members tried to revive it, they were blocked by elders fearful that spiritual essence of the language would be lost.

Laguna tribal members Jenni Monet and her grandmother June Sarracino. 

Jenni Monet

Media Files:

A language preserved in song

Fri, 28 Oct 2016 16:45:00 -0400

A group of anarchist Christians known as the Doukhobors emigrated to Canada in the early 1900s after becoming outcasts in Russian society. Their descendants don't use the old Doukhobor-Russian dialect, except for when they sing.

A Doukhobor festival in Castlegar, British Columbia, is shown here. For hundreds of years, the Doukhobors' oral cultural has been preserved in song and prayer.

Alina Simone

Media Files:

What US city is fully bilingual? Not Miami!

Wed, 26 Oct 2016 19:00:00 -0400

Miami, the Magic City is bilingual in practice, but not in theory, says one linguist. During the 1960's Miami was an example of bilingual education; the place where educators around the world went to see how bilingual ed was done. Somehow that got lost along the way. Today Miami-Dade County, the sprawling bureaucracy that surrounds the City of Miami, is about 70 percent Latinx, yet, most kids in public schools only get about an hour of Spanish education, not really enough to be proficient in a language. This week on the podcast, guest host Maria Murriel heads down to her hometown to explore how Miamians, including herself, feel about Spanish in Miami.

A La Carreta restaurant, a popular Cuban cuisine franchise in the Miami area.

Phillip Pessar/Flickr CC

Media Files:

Maisam learns Dutch

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 06:45:00 -0400

What is it like to learn a second language when you can't read and write in your first one? That's the challenge for this Afghan teenage refugee now going to school in Belgium.

Maisam Hosseini and his teacher An Somers. He attends a special language program for students new to Belgium.

Jeb Sharp

Media Files:

How the Miami Tribe got its language back

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 14:15:00 -0400

What happens when the last native speaker of a language has died? Is that language 'dead' or just 'sleeping'? And can it be woken up again?

Myaamia Chief Doug Lankford (right), linguist David Costa (center), and Myaamia Center director Daryl Baldwin (left), watching a traditional Stomp Dance in Oxford, Ohio.

Carol Zall

Media Files:

Toppling the Tower of Babel

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 14:45:00 -0400

When Netflix launched their talk show "Chelsea" this past May, they promised to deliver it three times a week in more than 20 languages. To do that, they had to invent a whole new translation process. We're in this interesting moment in media. The internet has made communicating with others across the globe easy and instant. But despite all the chatter about the global rise of English, the Tower of Babel still stands. The world remains multilingual, and not always translated. But more than a century ago, filmmakers thought they had found the key to tumbling the Tower of Babel. Directors like Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith felt that silent film was the perfect medium to bring the world together, unite us all, be our “visual Esperanto.” And then sound came and wrecked everything. This week on the podcast we go back to the silent film era and examine what happened when sound entered the picture. We also get a peek into Netflix’s solution to translating Chelsea at a rapid rate and ensuring that the show is still funny in 20 languages.

Media Files:

Sing to me in Vietnamese

Mon, 12 Sep 2016 14:30:00 -0400

A Vietnamese-American stays in touch with her cultural roots through language and song. But which language besides English will she pass on to her own children? Vietnamese or...Spanish?

Lily Bui and her Vietnamese-born mother who arrived in the United States as a refugee in the 1980s. 

Courtesy of Lily Bui

Media Files:

Sorry we killed off your language

Thu, 18 Aug 2016 15:45:00 -0400

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.

Anne Jimmie grew up speaking Ktunaxa, only to lose much of the language when she was removed from her family and placed in a boarding school. In 2006, the Canadian government compensated Jimmie and about 80,000 other First Nations people as part of a class action settlement.

Alina Simone

Media Files:

So, what are your pronouns?

Mon, 08 Aug 2016 11:00:00 -0400

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.

Media Files:

The Last Native Speakers of Hawaiian

Thu, 28 Jul 2016 16:00:00 -0400

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?

Keao NeSmith sitting in the cinderblock pavilion where Niihau parents marched in protest after pulling their children out of the local public school. Niihau elders taught their kids in these pavilions while they worked to get their own charter school going.

Nina Porzucki

Media Files:

Arabic as Americans hear it

Thu, 14 Jul 2016 14:15:00 -0400

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

First and second grade Arabic class in New York.

Frances Roberts / Alamy Stock Photo

Media Files:

Live show: From Ainu to Zaza

Wed, 29 Jun 2016 16:00:00 -0400

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.

Third-grader Haveo Maka'imoku with her brother. Haveo learns entirely in Hawaiian at a school in Hilo, Hawaii. At home, she speaks Hawaiian with mother, who attended one of the first Hawaiian language pre-schools founded in the 1980s.

Nina Porzucki

Media Files:

Deciphering the world's strangest encyclopedia

Wed, 08 Jun 2016 15:15:00 -0400

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.

An image from the Codex Seraphinianus, a mysterious encyclopedia first published in the 1980s.

Luigi Serafini/ Rizzoli

Media Files:

Who in Japan speaks Ainu?

Thu, 26 May 2016 15:15:00 -0400

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.

Ainu artisan Maki Sekine and her Japanese husband Kenji. Though he is not Ainu, Kenji Sekine has learned the language and now teaches it to Ainu and non-Ainu students.

Patrick Cox

Media Files:

Languages real and unreal

Thu, 05 May 2016 16:00:00 -0400

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?

Dutch-born author of Lingo, Gaston Dorren. Dorren is pictured here in a typically multilingual moment. He is in Turkey reading the German translation of book originally written in English: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka. Dorren's first language is Limburgish.

Marleen Bekker

Media Files:

Vikings, Yankees, and funny pronunciation

Wed, 27 Apr 2016 16:30:00 -0400

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.

Welcome to Berlin, New Hampshire. New Hampshire's Berliners have a unique way of pronouncing their town's name.


Media Files:

Etruscan: a mystery

Mon, 18 Apr 2016 12:45:00 -0400

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.

An ancient Etruscan bronze statuette of Herakles dating from the 6th or 5th Century B.C. 

Reuters/Brendan McDermid 

Media Files:

J'ai backé mon car dans la driveway

Tue, 05 Apr 2016 13:45:00 -0400

If you want to upset French language purists, learn to speak Chiac. It's a dialect of Acadian French spoken in New Brunswick that borrows liberally from English. Even as other North American dialects and languages are vanishing, Chiac seems to be sticking around.

Acadieman is a French Acadian superhero (or perhaps anti-superhero) who speaks Chiac. 

Courtesy Dano LeBlanc

Media Files:

389: The French Socialist Roots of Dallas, Texas

Thu, 24 Mar 2016 15:15:00 -0400

What’s in a name? Turns out more than you might think. What’s the deal with Tightsqueeze, Virgina? Where did the name for Dallas’ famous Reunion Tower come from? This week on the podcast we’re going to dive into some of these Nametag stories. Nametag is our occasional series on the stories behind places names. We’ll hear from The World’s intern Kenny Sokan on the stories behind some of the seedier place names in the United States. And producer Julia Barton takes us to her hometown of Dallas, Texas where she’s uncovered a dusty footnote in Dallas history linking a French socialist experiment to the Texas town.

Reunion Tower in Dallas at night. 

Photo by Wikimedia user Bis032

Media Files:

Speak Irish to me

Thu, 17 Mar 2016 14:00:00 -0400

For centuries, colonialists, church leaders and educators discouraged Irish people from using their native tongue. When Ireland won its independence, its leaders had no idea just how difficult it would be to bring the language back. Despite that, there's hope for Irish today.

Linguist Jaye Padgett wearing the head frame used to stabilize an ultrasound camera. Padgett and colleagues at UC-Santa Cruz and University College Dublin are documenting Irish consonant formation. 

Doug McKnight

Media Files:

So many Moscows

Thu, 10 Mar 2016 15:15:00 -0500

Have you ever wondered about the name of a place? Why that name? Who named it? Why is it pronounced the way that it is? Well, The World in Words is going to dig into the stories behind place names in the United States and abroad. This will be part of an occasional series we’re calling Nametag. Our first Nametag story comes from reporter Alina Simone. She went on a quest to find out why 26 towns around the US are named Moscow. We want questions from you, dear listeners! What names have always tickled your fancy and made you scratch your head why? They can be names of streets or towns or buildings or mountains – anything! Send us your queries via email: or hit us up on The World in Words Facebook page or tweet at us @lingopod.

A railroad track in Moscow, Arkansas. 

Photo courtesy of Erjan Aisabay.

Media Files:

Is bilingual better?

Thu, 03 Mar 2016 11:15:00 -0500

English speakers may not realize it, but the world is full of people who speak more than one language. A couple of recent studies show that we begin to develop our ear for language-- or languages-- long before we learn to speak.

Media Files:

Languages of love

Wed, 17 Feb 2016 14:15:00 -0500

New to The World in Words? Well, first off, thanks for listening. And if you liked the Eddie Izzard episode last week, you might enjoy our episode with French comic Gad Elmaleh or our episode about the Pop Punk Accent. For all that and more head to This week the World in Words goes down several internet worm holes to explore the intersection of love and language. Valentine’s Day may have come and gone but love shouldn’t be sequestered to one measly day. So, bring on the love. In this episode Patrick Cox goes on a musical quest to find the most beautiful Danish love song. And Nina Porzucki speaks with linguist and romance novelist, Julie Tetel Andresen about her theory on why love and language at their very heart (pun intended) are driven by the same human need. Finally, writer Virge Randall shares her very personal story of losing love and subsequently language. It’s a heartfelt episode the week after Valentine’s Day. Come spend some quality time with us.

Michael and Virginia "Virge" Randall were married for over 30 years. The spoke a dialect that Virge calls the "language of us."

Virginia Randall

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Eddie Izzard will make you laugh in four languages

Mon, 08 Feb 2016 15:45:00 -0500

This week on the World in Words: Comedian Eddie Izzard. Eddie Izzard has often joked about language from the silliness of Latin to why English speakers are so stubbornly monolingual. However, in late ‘90’s, Eddie decided that it wasn’t enough to joke about language; he wanted to joke in other languages. So in 1997 he took the stage and did his first set in France in French. It wasn't funny, he admits, but it was the start of a career goal to do stand-up in as many languages as possible. Eventually he did feel funny (and fluent) in French. Now, nearly two decades after that first French show, he has toured in not only French but German and Spanish. He intends to learn Russian and Arabic next. This week The World in Words sat down with Izzard to find out why he’s decided to take his humor around the globe and how he’s managed to learn all these languages.

Comedian and polyglot, Eddie Izzard does stand-up in English, French, German, and Spanish.

Idil Sukan 

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A death in the family

Thu, 28 Jan 2016 12:30:00 -0500

Bradley Campbell goes home to Dallas, Oregon, to find out why his Honduran-born father decided to "kill" Spanish a couple of years before Bradley was born.

Brothers John and George Campbell ride donkeys in the forests of Segovia, Colombia.

George Campbell

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Moroccan-French Comic Gad Elmaleh Leaves Fame and French Behind

Tue, 19 Jan 2016 15:15:00 -0500

Two years ago the Moroccan-French Comedian Gad Elmaleh had a dream to do 10-minutes of stand-up in English for an American audience. Elmaleh is a pretty big name in France. He can fill enormous arenas. But he left notoriety behind in France and came to the US. And for the last year he's been traveling across the US and performing in small comedy clubs honing his English routine. Elmaleh stopped by the studio on his way through Boston to talk about this English language learning adventure.

Moroccan-French Comedian Gad Elmaleh

Caroline Lessire

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Raising the Dead

Thu, 14 Jan 2016 13:30:00 -0500

Among the mansions and golf clubs of the Hamptons, Shinnecock Indians are trying to re-learn their language which died out more than a century ago. Plus, David Bowie and the word, "They".

Staff at the Wuneechanunk Shinnecock Preschool.

Courtesy of the Wuneechanunk Shinnecock Preschool

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The quest to create the first dumpling emoji

Fri, 08 Jan 2016 15:45:00 -0500

Emoji is a Japanese term for the cute little symbols you can text and tweet from your phone and PC. There are emojis for pizza and taco and apple but recently writer Jennifer 8 Lee discovered that there is no official dumpling emoji. Dumplings are one of the world's most ubiquitous foods, why dumpling emoji? Lee decided to change that and she found herself in a boardroom in Silicon Valley meeting with the Unicode Consortium. The World in Words talks Lee about her quest to create the first official dumpling emoji and about the mysterious Unicode Consortium, the entity that encodes emoji and makes them "official."

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Laughing in Multiple Languages

Mon, 28 Dec 2015 16:15:00 -0500

To close out 2015 the World in Words wanted to leave you smiling. Here's one of our favorite interviews with Canadian comedian Sugar Sammy.

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Koreans love American English

Mon, 21 Dec 2015 12:15:00 -0500

In South Korea, mastery of American English is a status symbol. Families send their kids to academies chosen for their American instructors. We hear from an English teacher from Ireland who was told by a Korean recruiter, "You don't speak English."

An English-language class in South Korea.

Jason Strother

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Thu, 10 Dec 2015 07:15:00 -0500

There are mysteries aplenty in David Bowie's song lyrics, Jennifer Tseng's story of love and Noam Chomsky's theory about language. But do we really need to solve these mysteries?

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Signing with a Philly accent

Thu, 03 Dec 2015 15:45:00 -0500

Cheesesteaks, Peanut Chews, Tasty Cakes, oh yeah, the Liberty Bell – there’s so much to love about Philadelphia but one of the best things about the city of Brotherly Love is the accent. This week on the podcast we learn about the Philadelphia accent in American Sign Language. What is an accent in ASL? ASL speaker and researcher Jami Fisher explains it all. She is part of the team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania who is working on the study to document this “weird” as she calls it way of signing. Plus, we hear from the actors of the Broadway musical, “Spring Awakening.” This new production features 8 deaf actors. John Hockenberry from our friends at The Takeaway got the chance to interview some of the actors.

A participant, right, in the study of the ASL Philadelphia accent is interviewed by researcher Jami Fisher's father.

Jami Fisher

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A tale of two linguists

Wed, 25 Nov 2015 13:15:00 -0500

Israeli linguist Arik Sadan is an authority on the Arabic language. Palestinian Sobhi Bahloul is Gaza's best-known Hebrew teacher. The two have never met.

Linguists Arik Sadan (in his Israeli Army days) and Sobhi Bahloul. Sadan is an authority on the Arabic language. Bahloul authored the Hebrew curriculum for Gaza's Palestinians.  

Shaina Shealy

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ISIS, ISIL or Daesh?

Tue, 17 Nov 2015 18:00:00 -0500

In the wake of the Paris Attack French President François Hollande was quick to denounce the alleged attackers, 'Daesh.' Many people call this same jihadist group ISIS. Alternatively they've been called ISIL and even the Islamic State. But many in the Arab speaking world and increasingly Western leaders have taken to calling the group 'Daesh.' This week in the podcast we explore the meaning of the term 'Daesh.'

A member of ISIS waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria.


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Three mother tongues in one

Mon, 16 Nov 2015 11:00:00 -0500

Many Lebanese speak a full-on mix of Arabic, French and English. Calling this linguistic melange a "mother tongue" started out as a joke, but now it's become a part of Lebanon's national identity — even if it means that sometimes people don't understand what they are saying. Also, to be a Lakota Indian how much of the language do you need to speak?

Sign in Beirut celebrating the hybrid Arabic/French/English that many Lebanese like to speak. 

Ted Swedenburg via Flickr

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Faking the Funk

Tue, 10 Nov 2015 14:15:00 -0500

Adele, the Rolling Stones, Cliff Richard, Iggy Azalea, Nicki Minaj, The Killers, Snow – what do these artists all have in common? Their accent. That is, the fact that they sometimes put on an accent other than their own when they sing. This week’s edition of The World in Words podcast we tackle the complicated questions that arise when artists sing in an accent that’s not their own. We’ll hear from linguists Bill Beeman and Jane Setter and ethnomusicologist Langston Wilkins as we explore what it means to fake the funk and “how” and “why” we do it. It’s a wild musical ride from the Rolling Stones to Cliff Richard and the Shadows to Iggy Azalea. Plus, Marco Werman, host of PRI’s The World and the newsroom’s resident music nerd makes a special appearance on the podcast to take a musical accent quiz.

Iggy Azalea performing in 2014.

Daniel Gregory

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What the deal with the pop punk accent?

Tue, 03 Nov 2015 14:45:00 -0500

On a recent road trip reporter Dan Nosowitz and his girlfriend found themselves belting out the lyrics to a Blink-182 song in the highly affected style of lead singer Tom DeLonge. Singing in DeLonge’s nasal, Southern California surfer twang, is a hilarious way to pass the long hours on the road says Dan. But that road trip serenade got him thinking, what the heck was going on with DeLonge’s strange pop punk voice? He enlisted a linguist's help to find out. This week’s podcast we explore the strange vocal stylings of the lead singer of Blink-182, Tom DeLonge. We’ll learn about elongated vowels and rhotacism. Plus, we will talk about how the punk accent has evolved from New York City to London and in California. Come listen and sing along!

Tom DeLonge was the co-lead vocalist for the pop punk band Blink-182

Thunderkiss Photography

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Talking Texas in Iran

Thu, 29 Oct 2015 15:00:00 -0400

What is it about Texas that sparks the global imagination? Persian and Turkish both have an expression that means, "This is not Texas." The Norwegian adjective, 'Texas' means out of control.

Larry Hagman at JR in Dallas, watched around the world. 

Screenshot from YouTube

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When in Rome...

Thu, 22 Oct 2015 21:00:00 -0400

Pope Francis has switched the official language of Vatican doctrine from Latin to Italian. He's also democratized his meetings with bishops. So why do some conservative bishops believe that contentious reforms are being deliberately lost in translation?

Pope Francis with cardinals as he arrives to lead the synod on the family at the Vatican October 9, 2015.

Alessandro Bianchi

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Learning English on the Fly

Thu, 15 Oct 2015 13:45:00 -0400

Donald Trump is hardly the only political candidate to complain about immigrants not learning English. But has he ever tried to find a convenient, affordable English class?

An adult education language class at Ahrens Educational Resource Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Christopher Connell/Flickr/Creative Commons

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Dementia stole my grandma's memory and our common language

Fri, 09 Oct 2015 16:45:00 -0400

Memory is a mysterious thing. A few years ago my grandmother had a series of strokes and dementia set in. She's a polyglot, she speaks seven languages. But suddenly, post stroke she started speaking a mixture of Polish and Russian -- two languages that my family doesn't speak. She's stuck in this linguistic fog and nobody in my family can find our way through. And I wondered why does the brain latch on to one language and not another? This week on the World in Words podcast we delve into dementia and bilingualism. I speak with two scientists Ellen Bialystok a psychology professor at York University in Canada and Thomas Bak a neuropsychologist at the University of Edinburgh about their research into dementia and bilingualism. You’ll also get to hear from the expert, my grandmother, and hear a bit of my own crackpot theory as to why she’s chosen to speak Polish and Russian.

This is my grandmother, Tania Porzucki. A few years ago she had a series of strokes and dementia set in. She is a polyglot. She speaks seven languages, but since the onset of dementia she has mainly been speaking a mixture of Polish and Russian.

Joseph Porzucki

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Speaking to grandma and grandpa

Wed, 30 Sep 2015 14:30:00 -0400

Yowei Shaw was born in the United States and speaks virtually no Mandarin. Her grandparents are from Taiwan and speak virtually no English. Kid talk was fine when Yowei was a kid. But now she's grown up, she's determined to have proper conversations with them— before it's too late.

Yowei Shaw and her grandpa

Chris Shaw

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A million lost words

Fri, 25 Sep 2015 15:00:00 -0400

Online dictionary Wordnik wants to give a home to a million "lost" words that aren't in traditional dictionaries. But do words like "lookupable" and "budthrill" really belong in a dictionary?

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How the Hawaiian word 'hapa' came to be used by people of mixed heritage

Tue, 15 Sep 2015 13:45:00 -0400

Recently, an old friend of mine had a language question she wanted me to investigate: Where does the word “hapa” come from? My friend Julie considers herself hapa. Her father is from Chile, her mom is Japanese American. And she calls herself “hapa” that is, half Asian, half something else. Julie had never questioned this definition before until one day, she was at the market, and she met a women who caused her to reconsider how she defined the word. This week, The World in Words takes a deep dive into the meaning(s) of the word hapa. I speak with Joanna Sotomura and Stephen Chang hosts of HalfTime, a YouTube talk show about Hapa issues. I interview professor Wei Ming Dariotis about how she became a hapa evangelist and then lost faith in the word. And we hear from Hawaiian linguist Kaeo NeSmith about the etymology of hapa and the term “hapa haole.”

Media Files:

Japan's harassment words

Wed, 09 Sep 2015 17:00:00 -0400

A lawsuit has drawn the Japanese public's attention to 'matahara,' a word coined from the English 'maternity harassment.' It refers to the practice of demoting or even laying off women when they become pregnant. It joins 'sekuhara' (sexual harassment), 'pawahara' (power harassment) and several other terms used to describe different types of harassment.

Aya Kanihara and her son Ayumu. Kanihara is taking maternity leave from her job in a Hiroshima office. 

Patrick Cox

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New Orleans or NOLA?

Mon, 24 Aug 2015 12:30:00 -0400

Part acronym, part abbreviation, NOLA is an increasingly popular nickname for New Orleans. But does it reflect the city's cultural and linguistic heritage?

Media Files:

Learning your enemy's language

Thu, 20 Aug 2015 15:15:00 -0400

In the early 1940s, virtually no one in the UK spoke Japanese. The British War Office tried to change that after Japan invaded British-held Malaya and Singapore. The results were mixed.

Japanese Army officers confer with a British Army officer after the Japanese surrender of Singapore, 1945.

Imperial War Museum

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The language of Hiroshima

Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:00:00 -0400

A chance encounter in Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park gives an 87-year-old survivor hope that his memory will live on after he dies. Plus, a lexicon of atomic bomb-related words.

Masaaki Murakami, a volunteer guide at Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park, listens to 87-year-old atomic bomb survivor Noriho Azuma. 

Patrick Cox

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Scrabble and the Scottish Accent

Wed, 22 Jul 2015 11:30:00 -0400

New Zealander Nigel Richards recently rocked the competitive scrabbling playing world when he became the 2015 French Scrabble World Champion. The World in Words digs into the backstory of the Scrabble genius. Also in the podcast we hear from a researcher who has been observing a slow change in the Scottish dialect – Scots seem to be swallowing their R’s.

The Isle of Skye in Scotland

Moyan Brenn/Flickr

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The accent quiz that tested the world

Tue, 21 Jul 2015 13:45:00 -0400

When linguist Bert Vaux posted a corpus of words and questions on his Harvard website back in the early 2000’s, little did he know that he would spawn an international meme. The quiz was supposed to test his students’ regional American accents. Did they say soda or coke or pop? Was it a roly-poly or a doodlebug? Do they wear sneakers or gym shoes or tennis shoes? His quiz went viral eventually becoming an international trend on YouTube. In this podcast I speak with writer Debbie Nathan who traced the origins of the meme for the language journal Schwa Fires. And I get to chat with linguist Vaux about what it's like to spark an internet phenomenon.

Media Files:

Do I Sound Gay?

Thu, 09 Jul 2015 16:15:00 -0400

There’s a new documentary out in movie theaters analyzing stereotypes surrounding the “gay voice.” I’ll talk to linguist Ron Smyth featured in the documentary about those stereotypes and how they translate to other languages. Also, linguist and writer Arika Okrent explains the etymology of the word “disabled.”

David Thorpe talks to linguists in his new documentary "Do I Sound Gay?"

Kickstarter: Do I Sound Gay?

Media Files:

Louisiana 'en Franglais'

Tue, 30 Jun 2015 15:30:00 -0400

This podcast we're headed down to the heart of French-speaking Louisiana. First we'll visit the French language radio station KVPI in Ville Platte, Louisiana. Since 1953 this commercial radio station has been broadcasting daily the local news in French. Even as the number of fluent French speakers dwindles in the area, the station is dedicated to reviving the heritage language. Next we'll head east to visit a public foreign language immersion elementary school in Baton Rouge. Kids spend the majority of their school day speaking either French or Spanish. The school began as a magnet program under East Baton Rouge Parish School System's desegregation order. Finally, we head back to KVPI to hear a little swamp pop. Never heard of swamp pop? Well, you'll just have to listen.

The hallways at Baton Rouge FLAIM are papered with children's drawings and school work in French and Spanish. 

Nina Porzucki

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ARRR and other words

Tue, 30 Jun 2015 11:00:00 -0400

The year is 1793 and Horatio Lord Nelson is given command of the ship Agamemnon. Wait, “is” given command? Shouldn’t it be “was” given command? 1793 is the past, right? In this podcast, Patrick Cox delves into the historical present. And The World’s history guy, Chris Woolf lets the cat out of the bag on the lingo of the high seas. Plus other bits of fun tape. We won’t leave you high and dry.

Media Files:

Will Welsh survive?

Wed, 24 Jun 2015 18:15:00 -0400

Welsh is thriving. Or maybe it's not. While it is making a comeback in cities like Cardiff, the language is spoken much less in its traditional rural heartlands. All the same, efforts to keep Welsh alive are considered a model for other struggling languages.

Graffiti in the Welsh town of Machynlleth. Translation: Wales forever. 

Sarah Joy/Flickr

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Can you hear me now?

Mon, 22 Jun 2015 15:15:00 -0400

Remember that Verizon commercial where some guy "tests" his cell signal in swamps and deep in the woods and in the middle of rush hour? The "can you hear me now?" guy is based on the real thing. Verizon engineers traverse the country testing signal but they aren't using the phrase "Can you hear me now?" They're using a set of special sentences written in a secret basement lab at Harvard during WWII. More about these Harvard Sentences in the podcast and British Justice Minister Michael Gove lays down the grammar laws for his staff. Gove's not-so-secret list of grammar no-nos.

Memorial Hall, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Wikimedia Commons user Daderot.

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Kibun and Cowardice

Wed, 17 Jun 2015 14:45:00 -0400

So, Hollywood finally took note. Piper, the protagonist from the TV series Orange is the New Black named checked the big show, The World with Marco Werman for teaching her the meaning of the word "kibun." Except, well, we never did a story about that word. No worries. Find out what kibun means in the pod. We'll also explore the meaning of the word cowardice. Ever wonder why it's associated with the color yellow? Or the gut? The World's Clark Boyd found the courage to talk with author Chris Walsh about his book, "Cowardice: A Brief History."

Actress Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman in "Orange is the New Black."


Media Files:

Magna Carta changed the law as we know it, but what else did it say?

Wed, 10 Jun 2015 13:15:00 -0400

Happy Birthday Magna Carta! The groundbreaking document turns 800-years-old this June. The "Great Charter" changed governance as we know it. But while the charter has long been revered, we really only cite a small part of the 5000 word document. So what does the rest of it say? The World's history guy Christopher Woolf explores the lesser known clauses of this great charter. Plus, The World in Words host, Patrick Cox takes a trip to the Salisbury Cathedral to see one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta.

Magna Carta 1215 at Salisbury Cathedral - close up of part of the text.

Ash Mills

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Land, nation and tongue

Wed, 03 Jun 2015 12:15:00 -0400

The holy trinity of Icelandic identity is, according to a popular poem, land, nation and tongue. Remove one, and the others will collapse. So will the Icelandic nation survive if, as some predict, the Icelandic language eventually dies out?

Ari Páll Kristinsson is in charge of language planning at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, the Icelandic government's language research agency.

Patrick Cox

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Retro Icelandic

Mon, 01 Jun 2015 18:00:00 -0400

For centuries, Icelanders have looked backward to move forward with their language. When they need to come up with words for a new technologies or ideas, they dredge up archaic terms-- and try to talk the public into re-using them.

Hulda Hákonardóttir and Guðrún Hannele Henttinen help come up with new Icelandic words as part of Iceland's knitting language committee.

Patrick Cox

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China's English language contest

Mon, 25 May 2015 14:15:00 -0400

Sponsored by state TV, the Star of Outlook English Competition is like a cross between the National Spelling Bee and American Idol. It claims to attract five million school-age entrants, as Chinese families chase the promise of an English-speaking life.

Tao Jingquan will turn 9 during the competition on Saturday. His talent? Reciting all the lines from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." (Believe me he knows them all. He recited them all for me.) He's playing Willy Wonka if you couldn't guess by his get-up.

Sunny Yang

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Re-learning your mother tongue in Korea

Tue, 19 May 2015 14:45:00 -0400

Many North Koreans try to drop their accents when they defect to the south. They must also learn the South Korean version of Korean, which eschews some traditional expressions for English loanwords. Even with a new smartphone app to guide them, it's a tough and unnerving challenge.

The Univoca smartphone app gives users the North Korean versions of South Korean words.

Jason Strother

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Washington's Persian-language guy

Fri, 08 May 2015 11:45:00 -0400

Alan Eyre has never been to Iran. But this State Department Persian speaker is a huge hit there, with his recitations of poetry, proverbs and policy.

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Where 'thug' came from

Wed, 29 Apr 2015 17:15:00 -0400

Today, 'thug' is a nasty mess of a word with racial overtones. Its origin is Hindi, and its popularizers include Mark Twain, Margaret Thatcher and Tupac Shakur.

A 19th-century watercolor by an unknown Indian artist depicts three Thugs strangling a traveler. The now-loaded term has its origins in India.

The British Library

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Minnesota's Umlautgate

Thu, 16 Apr 2015 17:45:00 -0400

The English language is where diacritics go to die. Except in Minnesota, where the governor has ordered the reinstatement of two dots over the 'o' in Lindström.

Lindström's motto is America's Little Sweden. The town was distressed when it lost the dots over the o in its name — the umlaut. They were restored Thursday by executive order of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton.

Courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Transportation

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The play Lincoln was watching

Fri, 10 Apr 2015 12:45:00 -0400

"Our American Cousin" was a British melodrama that poked fun at uncouth Americans. When it transferred to the United States, a rewritten version turned it into a farce that mocked pompous Brits.

The assassination of President Lincoln: at Ford's Theatre, Washington, DC, April 14th, 1865.

Creators Currier & Ives

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The father of German

Thu, 02 Apr 2015 13:15:00 -0400

Martin Luther is best known as the instigator of the Protestant Reformation, but his Bible translations used a form of conversational language that Germans had never before seen in print. It marked the beginning of modern German.

German toy company Playmobil released a Martin Luther figurine this year, ahead of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017. The first run of 34,000 sold out in less than 72 hours.

Playmobil via Tourismus Nürnberg

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The golden age of Chinese poetry

Tue, 24 Mar 2015 16:00:00 -0400

Twelve centuries after the golden age of Chinese Tang poetry, China is celebrating a new generation of poets: punk poets, micro-blogging poets and farm girl poets. That's annoying traditionalists who worry that poetry has become a little too popular and accessible. American poets may just look on in envy.

Poet Yu Xiuhua lives in her home village in China's Hubei Province. She became an internet sensation with the publication of her poem, "Crossing Half of China to Sleep With You."

ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

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Utah's language gamble

Wed, 18 Mar 2015 15:45:00 -0400

Utah's public schools rank dead last in the nation in per-student state spending. Yet, the state has decided that its economic future lies in foreign language education. In the words of one state official, "Monolingualism is the illiteracy of the 21st century."

A second-grader leads her class in a Chinese exercise at Santa Clara Elementary School in southern Utah.

Nina Porzucki

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Studying Sanskrit

Thu, 26 Feb 2015 14:30:00 -0500

This ancient religious language is championed by India's Hindu nationalists. The new Hindu nationalist government is promoting Sanskrit over the objections those who favor a secular, pluralist India. All of which may put off some people from learning Sanskrit-- but not everyone.

The cast of the Sanskrit play, "The Cleverness of the Thief." Patricia Sauthoff is in the center, wearing white.  

Corey Pein

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Spanglish is older than we may think

Thu, 12 Feb 2015 15:00:00 -0500

In the early 1800s, native English speakers like Scotsman Hugo Reid and New Englander Abel Stearns settled in Mexican California, married Spanish speakers and took Spanish names. In letters to other local Anglophones, they peppered their English with Spanish expressions and idioms. Comedian George Lopez might have been thinking of them when he said, "We've always spoken Spanglish."

Hugh Reid's story was dramatized in a 1940's radio program called The Romance of the Ranchos.  This was one of the promotional images used for the series.  Hugo and Victoria Reid's story were also the inspiration for Helen Hunt Jackson's epic 1884 novel, Ramona.

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A spoken word archive with benefits

Wed, 11 Feb 2015 14:45:00 -0500

Pop Up Archive is making spoken word audio searchable. It joins a similar effort by the BBC to tag and transcribe words spoken into microphones but until now not written down. Plus, Argentina’s President posts a dumb tweet about the Chinese pronouncing rice, ‘lice.’

The Pop Up Archive interface lets users jump around in an audio recording by clicking on the accompanying text.

Caroline Lewis

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