The World in Words

50 EpisodesProduced by 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… read more

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The sci-fi of another language

March 13th, 2019


In the West, we are used to sci-fi written by English-speakers who dream up English-speaking utopias and dystopias. Often in the final reel, …

A family divided by English

October 10th, 2018


When American Lynne Murphy says 'sure' to her British husband, he thinks she means 'not really.' After 18 years together, they still disagree-- and not just on 'sure.'

Poetry thieves

September 5th, 2018


Some people see British poet Ira Lightman as a champion of poets whose verses he valiantly defends. Others view him as a blowhard who delights in ruining other people's reputations. Either way, the story of his poetry …

The holes between the dots

August 8th, 2018


Some people believe technology will render Braille obsolete, that blind people will choose talking apps and audiobooks over embossed dots. Maybe, but …

How soccer became multilingual

June 19th, 2018


Professional soccer used to export its English-language terminology, giving other languages words like 'penalty' and 'goal.' But now, the roles are …

How has Basque survived?

May 31st, 2018


Basque is a language isolate. Spoken in a region that spans northern Spain across the border into southern France, it is not part of the …

Your brain on improv

May 24th, 2018


Ever wondered about people who can improvise on stage? How the words seem to come so easily? Neuroscientist Charles Limb and comedian Anthony Veneziale did. First came the bromance, then Veneziale found himself …

My language is my home

May 17th, 2018


Lea is a teenager born and raised in Japan. Her mother is Chinese, her father American. She speaks English, Mandarin and Japanese but isn’t sure …

Abandoning your mother tongue

May 9th, 2018


Alina Simone was born in the Soviet Union to Russian-speaking parents and now lives in New York. She initially raised her daughter to speak both English and Russian. So why did she give up on Russian and send her …

If you could talk to the animals

April 25th, 2018


Do you talk to your dog? Does your dog talk back to you? Dr. Doolittle’s dream of talking to the animals is one many of us can share. But what do …

The Story of 'X'

April 3rd, 2018


From X-rated to Gen X to Latinx, the meaning of 'X' has shifted while retaining an edgy, transgressive quality. We trace the meandering semantic route of 'X' through the 20th and 21st centuries, with help from …

The three-letter-word that rocked a nation

March 27th, 2018


In 2012, a little known Swedish press published a children’s book that sparked a nationwide debate. The debate wasn’t about the plot of the book, nor the pictures, but concerned a three-letter word used by the main …

A British Mx Tape

March 19th, 2018


The UK is obsessed with honorifics. Remember, this is the land of Barons and Earls and Ladies and Sirs and the ultimate HRH, "Her Royal Highness." …

The secretive language of pro wrestling

March 9th, 2018


In 1984, the professional wrestler “Dr. D" David Schultz smacked the TV journalist John Stoessel to the ground backstage at Madison Square Garden. …

Could Neanderthals talk?

February 21st, 2018


Humans are the only creatures on Earth that can choke on their own food. Yes, that’s right. Because we have funky plumbing. There’s a crucial split in our throats – one path that leads to the esophagus and the stomach, …

The rules of bilingual love

February 13th, 2018


He wrote to her mainly in Swedish, and she replied in Finnish. The correspondence of "Finlandia" composer Jean Sibelius and his wife Aino is funny …

Ivanka, meet Stalin

January 30th, 2018


In which we hear from another Ivanka, another Stalin and another Lenin. Ivanka's brush with fame came thanks to Donald Trump's carelessness on Twitter. But Stalin and Lenin were purposely given their names, by parents …

Losing your accent

January 12th, 2018


English is spoken with countless accents by both native and non-native speakers. But a hierarchy persists: there are 'good accents and 'bad' ones. So whether you're from Thailand or Tennessee, you may want to get rid of …

The words of 2017

December 20th, 2017


What are the words and images that best describe this past year? And why do some people think "whom" is obsolete? We talk with Buzzfeed's copy chief …

My voice is my passport – verify me

December 13th, 2017


Remember the 1990’s flick Sneakers with Robert Redford? Robert Redford’s character leads a group of hackers on a mission to steal a decoder from the NSA. And there’s a part in the film when Redford needs to bypass …

Welcome to the American family

November 29th, 2017


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 …

Speaking Yiddish to the dead

November 8th, 2017


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

Bash the Fash

October 25th, 2017


"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 …

Dubbing with benefits

October 11th, 2017


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 …

How to speak like an aliebn

September 27th, 2017


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 …

Who are the People?

September 18th, 2017


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 …

Deciphering the Lingo of Pro-Trump Trolls

August 23rd, 2017


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 …

Zappa for Germans

August 9th, 2017


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 …

To Catch a Fortune Cookie Thief

July 24th, 2017


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 …

Grandmothers have the best curse words

July 12th, 2017


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 …

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

June 27th, 2017


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 …

Vladimir Trump

June 13th, 2017


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.

Straight Outta Siberia

May 24th, 2017


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

In Moldova, speaking the wrong language once had serious consequences

May 9th, 2017


This week, The World in Words podcast visits the Moldova Authentic Restaurant in Newton, Massachusetts. Patrick Cox and Nina Porzucki talk with …

The words that divide Indian-Americans

April 27th, 2017


Sonia Paul grew up California, the child of immigrants from India and the Philippines. No wonder she's fascinated by the heated debates among …

Elena Ferrante & Italy's Linguistic Past

April 11th, 2017


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 …

How Christianese became a thing

March 29th, 2017


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 …

Arabic's Jewish dialect

March 16th, 2017


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 …

'Black' is a French word too

February 28th, 2017


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 …

An Iraqi writer in America

February 14th, 2017


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 …

A Kenyan language rises again

January 26th, 2017

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 …

Translating Trump

January 19th, 2017

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 …

The first cousin of English

December 23rd, 2016

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, …

What the Cuck?

December 14th, 2016

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 …

The global rise of Swahili

November 22nd, 2016

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 …

The Standing Rock Sioux's other fight

November 18th, 2016

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

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

November 14th, 2016

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 …

How do you say 'cancer' in Mixtec?

November 9th, 2016

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 …

Should we learn in two languages?

November 3rd, 2016

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?

Speak perfectly or don't speak at all

November 1st, 2016

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 …

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