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PRI's The World: The World in Words Podcast by Patrick Cox

PRI's The World: The World in Words Podcast

by Patrick Cox

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The World in Words with Patrick Cox focuses on language. We decode diplospeak and lay bare nationalist rants. And as English extends its global reach, we track the blowback from the world's more than 6,000 other languages.


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  • How soccer became multilingual
    Tue, Jun 19, 2018


    Professional soccer used to export its English-language terminology, giving other languages words like 'penalty' and 'goal.' But now, the roles are reversed. English-speakers use expressions loaned from other languages to describe skill moves: 'rabona,' 'panenka,' 'gegenpress.'

  • How has Basque survived?
    Thu, May 31, 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 Indo-European language family. It’s not related to Spanish or French or German or Greek or any known language. The origins of the language are a bit of mystery. In fact you can almost hear the history of the European continent in the language according to Basque language scholar Xabier Irujo.“The Basque language has words coming from all languages that have been in Europe since prehistory from Latin and Celtic languages, and probably from languages before these Celtic languages. Who knows what was spoken in Europe at the time.”This week on the podcast we talk about this mysterious language. How did it survive the military dictatorship of Francisco Franco when writing and speaking were illegal? How has this minority language thrived and even grown in the years since Franco’s dictatorship ended? And what’s the future hold for the language?

  • Your brain on improv
    Thu, May 24, 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 improvising inside an fMRI machine.

  • My language is my home
    Thu, May 17, 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 which of them is her mother tongue. Karolina lives in Boston but grew up in several countries and speaks a bunch of languages. Her English is perfect but she doesn’t feel completely at home in it, or in American culture. Welcome to the world of third culture kids, a fast-growing group of people who fit in everywhere and nowhere.

  • Abandoning your mother tongue
    Wed, May 09, 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 daughter to a Chinese immersion school?

  • If you could talk to the animals
    Wed, Apr 25, 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 all of those howls and growls mean and is it really language? This week on the podcast NOVA’s Ari Daniel joins us to explore the communication patterns of three different species: T?ngara frogs, Humpback whales and Diana monkeys.And if you listen and still want more...continue to nerd out with NOVA.They're going deep this month with a new program, "NOVA Wonders: What Are Animals Saying?" www.pbs.org/novawonders

  • The Story of 'X'
    Tue, Apr 03, 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 Afro-Latinx writer Jack Qu'emi, retired linguistics professor Ron Smyth and film historian Adrian Smith.

  • The three-letter-word that rocked a nation
    Tue, Mar 27, 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 character of the story. That word was the relatively new, gender neutral pronoun “hen.” Traditionally, Swedish does not have a gender neutral pronoun for people. "Hen" tapped into an ongoing conversation in the country was already having about gender and equality.This week on the podcast we go to Sweden and examine whether gender neutral language can help shape shift societal views on gender equality.This is part of a series on language and gender in collaboration with the Across Women's Lives project. For more stories on language and gender around the globe head to: www.pri.org/acrosswomenslives.Thanks to engineer Tina Tobey and Nathalie Rothschild for help on the podcast.

  • A British Mx Tape
    Mon, Mar 19, 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."But even if you can't claim HRH, selecting "Mr." or "Mrs." or "Miss" is a standard part of filling out many forms and documents.Very often these titles are gendered.But what if you don't identify with either gender?Or what if you don't want to reveal your marital status? Some folks are trying to ensure that you don't have to be a doctor or a reverend to claim a gender neutral title.This week on the podcast we take a look at the campaign for the gender neutral honorific "Mx." in the UK.Where does the honorific come from? And how has language and gender has been debated in the UK since the days of Shakespeare.This is the first part of a three-part series exploring language and gender.For the series we have teamed up with the Across Woman's Lives project. Check out more in-depth stories about language and gender around the globe at www.pri.org/acrosswomenslives

  • The secretive language of pro wrestling
    Fri, Mar 09, 2018


    In 1984, the professional wrestler “Dr. D" David Schultz smacked the TV journalist John Stoessel to the ground backstage at Madison Square Garden. Why? One word,kayfabe.If you’ve never heard of the word “kayfabe,” don’t worry.This week on podcast we throw on some tights and get into the ring to explore a word you were never supposed to hear. Plus, there's a lot of excellent, throw-back wrestling tunes.

  • Could Neanderthals talk?
    Wed, Feb 21, 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, and another that leads to our larynx, or voice box. Why would humans have evolved such potentially fatal architecture? Some experts say the reason is speech, suggesting speech might pre-date Homo sapiens, going back to Neanderthals, or even Homo erectus, our likely ancestors from millions of years ago. This is all theoretical of course. There are no million-year-old recordings. But some of these ideas are gaining steam. This week on the podcast, reporter Ari Daniel from our partner program NOVA explores several theories about where language comes from.

  • The rules of bilingual love
    Tue, Feb 13, 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 and touching. And their letters are a goldmine for the study of code-switching.

  • Ivanka, meet Stalin
    Tue, Jan 30, 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 in the Indian state of Kerala. Do they have a date with destiny?

  • Losing your accent
    Fri, Jan 12, 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 your accent. We hear from a few such people, and from someone who has no interest in changing his accent.

  • The words of 2017
    Wed, Dec 20, 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 Emmy Favilla and Cartoon Queen Carol Hills who monitors political cartoons from around the world.

  • My voice is my passport – verify me
    Wed, Dec 13, 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 security to sneak into a building. Only problem, the security is a voice activated; at least in 1992 that might’ve been a problem. Today, if Jos? Sotelo has anything to do with it, Redford’s crew need not worry about imitating a voice.. Sotelo co-founded a start-up called Lyrebird that can synthesize your voice with as little as one minute of recording.This week on the podcast: computers speak.We talk about the original chat bot “ELIZA” who created as a therapy bot and , yes,was named after Eliza Doolittle.We look into the history of speech synthesis from brazen heads of the medieval times to the animated tones of the Voder, the electronic attempt to replicate speech. And best of all Patrick Cox has his voice synthesized.Plus, we fret about the ethical implications of it all. How will this technology further erode our notion of truth? Are we entering a black mirror moment?

  • Welcome to the American family
    Wed, Nov 29, 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 '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.'

  • Speaking Yiddish to the dead
    Wed, Nov 08, 2017


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

  • Bash the Fash
    Wed, Oct 25, 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 episode has explicit language and content.

  • Dubbing with benefits
    Wed, Oct 11, 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 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.

  • How to speak like an aliebn
    Wed, Sep 27, 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 grammar of the language he invented.

  • Who are the People?
    Mon, Sep 18, 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 derivatives. Now Germany's New Right are reviving some of these terms.

  • Deciphering the Lingo of Pro-Trump Trolls
    Wed, Aug 23, 2017


    In the run up to the presidential election Cristina L?pez 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.

  • Zappa for Germans
    Wed, Aug 09, 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 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.

  • To Catch a Fortune Cookie Thief
    Mon, Jul 24, 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 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.

  • Grandmothers have the best curse words
    Wed, Jul 12, 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 swearologist Stephen Dodson and author Marilyn Chin. Plus, Nina Porzucki interviews her grandmother about the meaning of a Polish word.

  • 'Dialect' versus 'language,' what's the big deal?!
    Tue, Jun 27, 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 define language and trying to define dialect and I’m not alone in that,” said linguist Bojan Beli?. 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 clich?, 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.

  • Vladimir Trump
    Tue, Jun 13, 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
    Wed, May 24, 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
    Tue, May 09, 2017


    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.

  • The words that divide Indian-Americans
    Thu, Apr 27, 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 Indian-Americans over how school textbooks characterize Hinduism and caste.

  • Elena Ferrante & Italy's Linguistic Past
    Tue, Apr 11, 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 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.

  • How Christianese became a thing
    Wed, Mar 29, 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 speak Christianese, a "religiolect" that linguists have recently started tracking.

  • Arabic's Jewish dialect
    Thu, Mar 16, 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 now living in Montreal. Plus, novelist Louie Cronin on satirizing linguistics.

  • 'Black' is a French word too
    Tue, Feb 28, 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 fact, two histories: the French version seeks to be colorblind while the American one recognizes race at every turn.

  • An Iraqi writer in America
    Tue, Feb 14, 2017


    Mosul-born Anoudfirst 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.

  • A Kenyan language rises again
    Thu, Jan 26, 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 language activists assisted by American linguists.

  • Translating Trump
    Thu, Jan 19, 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 "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.

  • The first cousin of English
    Fri, Dec 23, 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, writers, politicians and kids at a trilingual school.

  • What the Cuck?
    Wed, Dec 14, 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 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.

  • The global rise of Swahili
    Tue, Nov 22, 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 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.

  • The Standing Rock Sioux's other fight
    Fri, Nov 18, 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'
    Mon, Nov 14, 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, caf?s 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.

  • How do you say 'cancer' in Mixtec?
    Wed, Nov 09, 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 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.

  • Should we learn in two languages?
    Thu, Nov 03, 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
    Tue, Nov 01, 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 fearful that spiritual essence of the language would be lost.

  • A language preserved in song
    Fri, Oct 28, 2016


    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.

  • What US city is fully bilingual? Not Miami!
    Wed, Oct 26, 2016


    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.

  • Maisam learns Dutch
    Thu, Oct 20, 2016


    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.

  • How the Miami Tribe got its language back
    Fri, Oct 14, 2016


    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?

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