Lingthusiasm - A podcast that's enthusiastic about linguistics

Lingthusiasm - A podcast that's enthusiastic about linguistics

Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne
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
Aug 16, 2019 29 min

35: Putting sounds into syllables is like putting toppings on a burger

Sometimes a syllable is jam-packed with sounds, like the single-syllable word “strengths”. Other times, a syllable is as simple as a single vowel or consonant+vowel, like the two syllables in “a-ha!” It’s kind of like a burger: you might pack your burger with tons of toppings, or go as simple as a patty by itself on a plate, but certain combinations are more likely than others. For example, an open-face burger, with only the bottom half of the bun, is less weird than a burger with only the top half. In this episode of Lingthusiasm, your hosts Lauren Gawne and Gretchen McCulloch get enthusiastic about syllables. Why aren’t there any English words that begin with “ng”, even though Vietnamese is perfectly happy to have them? Why do Spanish speakers pronounce the English word “Sprite” more like “Esprite”? Why did English speakers re-analyze Greek helico-pter into heli-copter? Plus more about how different languages prefer different things in their syllable-burgers and what happens when these preferences collide. This month’s bonus episode is about metaphors! Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to gain access to the metaphors episode and 29 previous bonus episodes. https://www.patreon.com/lingthusiasm Today is the final day for two things related to Because Internet, Gretchen’s book about internet linguistics (which is out now and you can get it!). 1. Send us your questions about Because Internet, internet language, or the process of writing a book for a special bonus behind the scenes Q&A episode about the book! 2. Join our new “ling-phabet” tier on Patreon by August 15th in any timezone (you may get a few hours into August 16th if you’re lucky!) and get a signed Because Internet bookplate sticker with your name on it in the mail! https://www.patreon.com/lingthusiasm For links and things mentioned in this episode: https://lingthusiasm.com/post/187039068846/lingthusiasm-episode-35-putting-sounds-into
Jul 18, 2019 30 min

34: Emoji are Gesture Because Internet

Emoji make a lot of headlines, but what happens when you actually drill down into the data for how people integrate emoji into our everyday messages? It turns out that how we use emoji has a surprising number of similarities with how we use gesture. In this episode of Lingthusiasm, your hosts Lauren Gawne and Gretchen McCulloch get enthusiastic about emoji, and how gesture studies can bring us to a better understanding of these new digital pictures. We also talk about how we first came to notice the similarities between emoji and gesture, including a behind-the-scenes look into chapter five of Gretchen’s book about internet linguistics, Because Internet (the chapter in which Lauren makes a cameo appearance!) Speaking of which, that’s right, Because Internet, Gretchen’s long-anticipated book about internet linguistics, is coming out this Tuesday! (That’s July 23, 2019, if you’re reading this from the future.) If you like the fun linguistics we do on Lingthusiasm, you’ll definitely like this book! Preorders and the first week or two of sales are super important to the lifespan of a book, because they’re its best chance of hitting any sort of bestseller list, so we’d really appreciate it if you got it now! Go to gretchenmcculloch.com/book for ordering links! We’re planning a special bonus Patreon Q&A episode with behind the scenes info on Because Internet and the book writing process once it’s out, so send us your questions at [email protected] or on social media by August 15th to be part of this bonus episode! We also have a new tier on Patreon! For $15 or more, join the Ling-phabet tier and get your name and favourite IPA symbol or other special character on our Lingthusiasm Supporters Wall of Fame! Plus, join the new $15 tier by August 15th, and get a free Because Internet bookplate signed by Gretchen with your name on it and sent to you in the mail, so you can stick it inside of your copy of Because Internet (or anywhere else you like to put stickers). patreon.com/lingthusiasm As usual, we also have a bonus episode for the $5 Patreon tier, and this month’s bonus episode is about family words! Aka familects, these are the unique words that you create and use within your family. Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to gain access to the familects episode and 28 previous bonus episodes. patreon.com/lingthusiasm For the links mentioned in this episode, visit the shownotes page at: https://lingthusiasm.com/post/186386270916/lingthusiasm-episode-34-emoji-are-gesture-because
Jun 20, 2019 32 min

33: Why spelling is hard — but also hard to change

Why does “gh” make different sounds in “though” “through” “laugh” “light” and “ghost”? Why is there a silent “k” at the beginning of words like “know” and “knight”? And which other languages also have interesting historical artefacts in their spelling systems? Spelling systems are kind of like homes – the longer you’ve lived in them, the more random boxes with leftover stuff you start accumulating. In this episode of Lingthusiasm, your hosts Lauren Gawne and Gretchen McCulloch get enthusiastic about spelling, and celebrate the reasons that it’s sometimes so tricky. We then dive into quirks from some of our favourite spelling systems, including English, French, Spanish, Tibetan, and Arabic. This month’s bonus episode is about direction words! When you’re giving directions, do you tell someone to go north, left, or towards the sea? In this bonus episode, e talk with Alice Gaby about how different languages use different direction words. Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to gain access to the directions episode and 27 previous bonus episodes. Because Internet, Gretchen’s book about internet linguistics, is coming out next month, and if you like the fun linguistics we do for Lingthusiasm, you’ll definitely like this book! You can preorder it here in hardcover, ebook, or audiobook (read by Gretchen herself) – preorders are really important because they signal to the publisher that people are excited about linguistics, so they should print lots of copies! We really appreciate your preorders (and you can look forward to a special Q&A episode with behind the scenes info on Because Internet once it’s out!) For links mentioned in this episode: https://lingthusiasm.com/post/185735719586/lingthusiasm-episode-33-why-spelling-is-hard
Lingthusiasm - A podcast that's enthusiastic about linguistics
Creators
Gretchen McCulloch (host)
Lauren Gawne (host)
Genre
Society & Culture
Episodes
42
Frequency
Monthly podcast
Prediction
Next episode Sunday, April 19
Ratings
(3)
Website
lingthusiasm.com
Social