Lingthusiasm - A podcast that's enthusiastic about linguistics

Lingthusiasm - A podcast that's enthusiastic about linguistics

Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne
Jun 19, 2020 38 min

45: Tracing languages back before recorded history

Language is much older than writing. But audio and visual cues from sounds and signs don’t leave physical traces the way writing does. So when linguists want to figure out how people talked before history started being recorded, we need to engage in some careful detective work, by comparing two or more similar, known languages to (potentially!) reconstruct a hypothetical common ancestor. In this episode, your hosts Lauren Gawne and Gretchen McCulloch get enthusiastic about these prehistoric languages that historical linguists have reconstructed, known as proto-languages. We dive into some of our favourite proto-languages (Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Algonquian, Proto-Pama-Nyungan, and Proto-Bantu), look at their characteristic grammatical signatures, and explain what we can and can’t know about the people who spoke them based on their vocabularies. --- This months bonus episode is about doing linguistics with kids! Child language acquisition is a perennial source of entertainment for the linguistically-inclined – and so is helping any young people in your life develop an interest in linguistics. In this episode, we talk about some of our favourite things to observe about how kids are learning language as well as linguistically-relevant books for children, middle grade, and young adult. Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to get access to this and 39 other bonus episodes, and to chat with fellow lingthusiasts in the Lingthusiasm patron Discord. Announcements: We are delighted to announce the winners of the 2020 LingComm Grants. Here are the project titles for the 4 grantees, and there’s more information about each project on the LingComm website, as well as two honourable mentions. We’re very excited to share more with you as they develop. https://lingcomm.org/ The Black Language Podcast (Anansa Benbow) Nonbinary Linguistics youtube channel (Nina Lorence-Ganong) Jazicharnica (Јазичарница) blog (Nina Tunteva and Viktorija Blazheska) War of Words podcast (Juana de los Santos; Angela Makeviciuz; Antonella Moschetti; Néstor Bermúdez) We had over 75 applications from around the world and we'd like to thank all applicants for making the job of deciding extremely difficult! New masks By popular demand, our IPA, Tree and Esoteric Symbol designs are now available on these new non-medical grade reusable fabric masks from Redbubble. On our store you’ll find the white IPA characters on black, red or navy, and the esoteric symbols in white on black or green on black. If you fancy another colour, or the tree design, we’ve made masks available on all of the scarf pages. https://www.redbubble.com/people/lingthusiasm --- For links to everything mentioned in this episode visit our shownotes page: https://lingthusiasm.com/
May 22, 2020 32 min

44: Schwa, the most versatile English vowel

The words about, broken, council, potato, and support have something in common -- they all contain the same sound, even though they each spell it with a different letter. This sound is known as schwa, it's written as an upside-down lowercase e, and it has the unique distinction of being the only vowel with a cool name like that! (The other vowels are called, unglamorously, things like "high front unrounded vowel"). The words about, broken, council, potato, and support have something in common -- they all contain the same sound, even though they each spell it with a different letter. This sound is known as schwa, it's written as an upside-down lowercase e, and it has the unique distinction of being the only vowel with a cool name like that! (The other vowels are called, unglamorously, things like "high front unrounded vowel"). In this episode of Lingthusiasm, your hosts Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne get enthusiastic about why the schwa is cool enough to get its own name! We also talk about why the word schwa doesn't itself have a schwa in it, the origin of the word schwa in Hebrew and German, the relationship between schwa and "silent e", and how schwa contributes to an English-sounding accent in other languages. Schwa is also a big reason why English spelling is so difficult, because other vowels often become schwa when they’re not in a stressed syllable (giving rise to lots of jokes like “I wanna be a schwa, it’s never stressed). This month’s bonus episode is about numbers! We talk about fossilized number systems (which explain words like "eleven" and "twelve" in Germanic languages), counting gestures and different base systems in various languages (from base 6 to base 27), and indefinite hyperbolic numerals (words like "bazillion" and "umpteen"). Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to get access to the numbers episode, as well as 38 other bonus episodes, and to chat with fellow lingthusiasts in the Lingthusiasm patron Discord. We can all aspire to be a little less stressed, like our favourite English vowel. We've created new Schwa (Never Stressed) merch. Available in a floral garland, stylised geometric black on white and stylised geometric white on black. Pins, cards, mugs, and mobile phone cases. Art by Lucy Maddox www.lucymaddox.com. Lingthusiasm merch makes a great gift for yourself or other lingthusiasts! Also check out IPA scarves, IPA socks, and more at lingthusiasm.redbubble.com Lingthusiasm merch makes a great gift for yourself or other lingthusiasts! Check out IPA scarves, IPA socks, and more at lingthusiasm.redbubble.com Have a great idea for a linguistics communication project, but need a bit of money to get it off the ground? Looking to support emerging lingcomm projects? The LingComm Grant is four $500 grants for communicating linguistics to broader audiences in 2020. Applications close 1st of June 2020. Find out more and apply here. For all the links mentioned in this episode: https://lingthusiasm.com/post/618776884082360320/lingthusiasm-episode-44-schwa-the-most-versatile
Apr 17, 2020 42 min

43: The grammar of singular they - Interview with Kirby Conrod

Using “they” to refer to a single person is about as old as using “you” to refer to a single person: for example, Shakespeare has a line “There's not a man I meet but doth salute me. As if I were their well-acquainted friend”, and the Oxford English Dictionary has citations for both going back to the 14th century. More recently, people have also been using singular they to refer to a specific person, as in “Alex left their umbrella”. In this episode, your host Gretchen McCulloch interviews Dr Kirby Conrod, a linguist who wrote their dissertation about the syntax and sociolinguistics of singular they. We talk about Kirby’s research comparing how people use third person pronouns (like they, she, and he) in a way that conveys social attitudes, like how some languages use formal and informal “you”, specific versus generic singular they, and how people go about changing their mental grammars for social reasons. --- This month’s bonus episode is about synesthesia, and research on various kinds of synesthesia, including the much-studied grapheme-colour, sound-colour, and time-space synesthesia, as well as rarer varieties such as Gretchen's attitude-texture synesthesia which she's never heard of anyone else having. Also, our producer Claire realized she was actually a synesthete while editing this episode! Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to gain access to the teaching linguistics episode and 37 previous bonus episodes, and to chat with fellow lingthusiasts in the Lingthusiasm patron Discord. Lingthusiasm merch makes a great gift for yourself or other lingthusiasts! Check out IPA scarves, IPA socks, and more at lingthusiasm.redbubble.com Have a great idea for a linguistics communication project, but need a bit of money to get it off the ground? Looking to support emerging lingcomm projects? The LingComm Grant is four $500 grants for communicating linguistics to broader audiences in 2020. Applications close 1st of June 2020. Find out more and apply at lingcomm.org For links to everything mentioned in this episode, go to https://lingthusiasm.com/post/615600862742609920/lingthusiasm-episode-43-the-grammar-of-singular
Mar 19, 2020 39 min

42: What makes a language “easy”? It’s a hard question

Asking which language is the hardest to learn is like asking where the furthest place is – it all depends on where you start. And for babies, who start out not knowing any of them, all natural languages are eminently learnable – because otherwise they wouldn’t exist at all! In this episode of Lingthusiasm, your hosts Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne get enthusiastic about a common question: what are people really asking when they ask about “easy” or “hard” languages? It turns out that there are several things going on, including which languages you already know, whether you’re approaching a language as an adult or a child, and what sort of motivation and contexts to speak it you have. — This month’s bonus episode is about teaching linguistics, and how you can be your own best teacher even if you aren’t heading to university any time soon. We discuss ways to make learning about more than just terminology, how to get right into data from the beginning, and how to keep a clear picture of how linguistics is relevant to other things you’re studying or enjoying. Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to gain access to the teaching linguistics episode and 36 previous bonus episodes, and to chat with fellow lingthusiasts in the Lingthusiasm patron Discord. New this month we’re also doing a couple listen-along chats in the Discord as well, so you can stream the episode at the same time as fellow lingthusiasts and chat with each other in the channel for that! https://patreon.com/lingthusiasm Lingthusiasm merch makes a great gift for yourself or other lingthusiasts! Check out IPA scarves, IPA socks, and more at lingthusiasm.redbubble.com — Have a great idea for a linguistics communication project, but need a bit of money to get it off the ground? Looking to support emerging lingcomm projects? The LingComm Grant is a $500 grant for communicating linguistics to broader audiences in 2020. If we reach 790 patrons by the 1st of May 2020, we’ll give out four grants instead of two. Applications close 1st of June 2020. Find out more and apply here. http://lingcomm.org/grant For links to everything mentioned in this episode, go to https://lingthusiasm.com/post/613058137097912320/lingthusiasm-episode-42-what-makes-a-language
Feb 20, 2020 35 min

41: This time it gets tense - The grammar of time

How do languages talk about the time when something happens? Of course, we can use words like “yesterday”, “on Tuesday”, “once upon a time”, “now”, or “in a few minutes”. But some languages also require their speakers to use an additional small piece of language to convey time-related information, and this is called tense. In this episode of Lingthusiasm, your hosts Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne talk about when some languages obligatorily encode time into their grammar. We look at how linguists go about determining whether a language has tense at all, and if so, how many tenses it has, from two tenses (like English past and non-past), to three tenses (past, present, and future), to further tenses, like remote past and on-the-same-day. --- This month’s bonus episode is about what happens when the robots take over Lingthusiasm! In this extension of our interview with Janelle Shane from Episode 40, we train a neural net to generate new Lingthusiasm episodes and perform some of the most absurd ones for you. Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to gain access to the Robot-Lingthusiasm episode and 35 previous bonus episodes, and to chat with fellow lingthusiasts in the Lingthusiasm patron Discord patreon.com/lingthusiasm Lingthusiasm merch makes a great gift for yourself or other lingthusiasts! Check out IPA scarves, IPA socks, and more at lingthusiasm.redbubble.com For the links mentioned in this episode, check out the shownotes page at https://lingthusiasm.com/post/190937079286/lingthusiasm-episode-41-this-time-it-gets-tense
Jan 17, 2020 44 min

40: Making machines learn language - Interview with Janelle Shane

If you feed a computer enough ice cream flavours or pictures annotated with whether they contain giraffes, the hope is that the computer may eventually learn how to do these things for itself: to generate new potential ice cream flavours or identify the giraffehood status of new photographs. But it’s not necessarily that easy, and the mistakes that machines make when doing relatively silly tasks like ice cream naming or giraffe identification can illuminate how artificial intelligence works when doing more serious tasks as well. In this episode, your hosts Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne interview Dr Janelle Shane, author of You Look Like A Thing And I Love You and person who makes AI do delightfully weird experiments on her blog and twitter feed. We talk about how AI “sees” language, what the process of creating AI humour is like (hint: it needs a lot of human help to curate the best examples), and ethical issues around trusting algorithms. Finally, Janelle helped us turn one of the big neural nets on our own 70+ transcripts of Lingthusiasm episodes, to find out what Lingthusiasm would sound like if Lauren and Gretchen were replaced by robots! This part got so long and funny that we made it into a whole episode on its own, which is technically the February bonus episode, but we didn’t want to make you wait to hear it, so we’ve made it available right now! This bonus episode includes a more detailed walkthrough with Janelle of how she generated the Robo-Lingthusiasm transcripts, and live-action reading of some of our favourite Robo-Lauren and Robo-Gretchen moments. Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to gain access to the Robo-Lingthusiasm episode and 35 previous bonus episodes. patreon.com/lingthusiasm Also for our patrons, we’ve made a Lingthusiasm Discord server – a private chatroom for Lingthusiasm patrons! Chat about the latest Lingthusiasm episode, share other interesting linguistics links, and geek out with other linguistics fans. (We even made a channel where you can practice typing in the International Phonetic Alphabet, if that appeals to you!) To see the links mentioned in this episode, check out the shownotes page at https://lingthusiasm.com/post/190298658151/lingthusiasm-episode-40-making-machines-learn
Dec 19, 2019 33 min

39: How to rebalance a lopsided conversation

Why do some conversations seems to flow really easily, while other times, it feels like you can’t get a word in edgewise, or that the other person isn’t holding up their end of the conversation? In this episode of Lingthusiasm, your hosts Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne have a conversation about the structure of conversations! Conversation analysts talk about a spectrum of how we take turns in conversation: some people are more high-involvement, while other people are more high-considerateness, depending on how much time you prefer to elapse between someone else’s turn and your own. These differences explain a lot about when conversations feel like they’re going off the rails and how to bring them back on track. — This month’s bonus episode is about onomatopoeia! We talk about words that take their inspiration from the sounds and experiences of the world around us, and how these words vary across languages. Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to gain access to the onomatopoeia episode and 33 previous bonus episodes. patreon.com/lingthusiasm Lingthusiasm merch makes a great gift for yourself or other lingthusiasts! Check out IPA scarves, IPA socks, and more at lingthusiasm.com/merch For more links to everything mentioned in this episode, check out the shownotes at https://lingthusiasm.com/post/189762810146/lingthusiasm-episode-39-how-to-rebalance-a
Nov 21, 2019 32 min

38: Many ways to talk about many things - Plurals, duals and more

In English you have one book, and three books. In Arabic you have one kitaab, and three kutub. In Nepali it’s one kitab, and three kitabharu, but sometimes it’s three kitab. In this episode of Lingthusiasm, Gretchen and Lauren look at the many ways that languages talk about how many of something there are, ranging from common distinctions like singular, plural, and dual, to more typologically rare forms like the trial, the paucal, and the associative plural. (And the mysterious absence of the quadral, cross-linguistically!) It’s also our anniversary episode! We’re celebrating three years of Lingthusiasm by asking you to share your favourite fact you’ve learnt from the podcast. Share it on social media and tag @lingthusiasm if you’d like us to reshare it for other people, or just send it directly to someone who you think needs a little more linguistics in their life. This month’s bonus episode was about reading fiction as a linguist! Check out our favourite recs for linguistically interesting fiction and get access to 30+ additional episodes if you’ve run out of lingthusiasm to listen to, by becoming a member on Patreon. https://www.patreon.com/lingthusiasm For links and more go to https://lingthusiasm.com/post/189218282891/lingthusiasm-episode-38-many-ways-to-talk-about
Oct 17, 2019 36 min

37: Smell words, both real and invented

What’s your favourite smell? You might say something like the smell of fresh ripe strawberries, or the smell of freshly-cut grass. But if we asked what your favourite colour is, you might say red or green, but you wouldn’t say the colour of strawberries or grass. Why is it that we have so much more vocabulary for colours than for scents? In this episode of Lingthusiasm, your hosts Lauren Gawne and Gretchen McCulloch get enthusiastic about language and smell! We discuss research into how languages describe scents, colour-odour synesthesia, and how researchers go about doing experiments on smell vocabulary (featuring the gloriously-named Sniffin’ Sticks). Plus, we talk about how Lauren invented a scent-focused language for a YA fantasy novel! The book is called Shadowscent in the US or The Darkest Bloom in the UK, and it’s by PM Freestone. Lauren created the Aramteskan language that appears in the book. We discuss what it is like to work on a constructed language for a novel, and how Lauren brought her knowledge of linguistics into the creation of this language. -- November is our official anniversary month! To celebrate three years of Lingthusiasm, we’re asking you, our listeners, to share your favourite fact from the show! This helps people who need more linguistics in their lives realize that this is a place where they can get it, and helps show us what people find interesting. If you share on social media, tag us (@lingthusiasm) so we can thank you and reshare it. We also have new merch! All of the Lingthusiasm merch makes a great gift for the linguist or language fan in your life, and we love seeing your photos of it! See photos of our new socks, greeting cards, glottal bottles, and t-shirts that say LINGUISTIC "CORRECTNESS" IS JUST A LIE FROM BIG GRAMMAR TO SELL MORE GRAMMARS at redbubble.com/lingthusiasm This month’s bonus episode is about surnames! We share the history of our own surnames, how different cultures approach naming, and when people change names. Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to gain access to the directions episode and 31 previous bonus episodes. patreon.com/lingthusiasm For the links mentioned in this episode, go to the shownotes page at https://lingthusiasm.com/post/188414891881/lingthusiasm-episode-37-smell-words-both-real
Sep 20, 2019 39 min

36: Villages, gifs, and children: Researching signed languages in real-world contexts with Lynn Hou

Larger, national signed languages, like American Sign Language and British Sign Language, often have relatively well-established laboratory-based research traditions, whereas smaller signed languages, such as those found in villages with a high proportion of deaf residents, aren’t studied as much. When we look at signed languages in the context of these smaller communities, we can also think more about how to make research on larger sign languages more natural as well. In this episode, your host Gretchen McCulloch interviews Dr Lynn Hou, an Assistant Professor of linguistics at the University of California Santa Barbara, in our first bilingual episode (ASL and English). Lina researches how signed languages are used in real-world environments, which takes her from analyzing American Sign Language in youtube videos to documenting how children learn San Juan Quiahije Chatino Sign Language (in collaboration with Hilaria Cruz, one of our previous interviewees!). We’re very excited to bring you our first bilingual episode in ASL and English! For the full experience, make sure to watch the video version of this episode at youtube.com/lingthusiasm (and check out our previous video episode on gesture in spoken language while you’re there). Check out the shownotes page to get the links mentioned in this episode: https://lingthusiasm.com/post/187829933341/lingthusiasm-episode-36-villages-gifs-and
Lingthusiasm - A podcast that's enthusiastic about linguistics
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Society & Culture
Episodes
45
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Monthly podcast
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Next episode Sunday, July 19
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