What kinds of variation do we see in language? What does it mean for a linguistic system to be classified as a dialect or its very own capital-L Language? In this episode, we talk about linguistic variation: the ways in which dialects can differ, what underlies different grammars, and why every version of a language is okay.
The History of English
Where did English come from? How has it changed and evolved over time to become the powerhouse language it is today? In this episode, we talk about the history of English: what it looked like when it was more Germanic, how it became more French in Middle English, and the changes that happened to make it the Modern English we speak today.
How do the meanings of words change over time? In this episode, we look at semantic shift: how the senses of words drift over time, and how we can describe the different patterns we find across languages.
How long have we been writing? What sorts of character systems do we use? In this episode, we look at our written languages: where they came from, the varieties of systems that we developed, and how different alphabets have evolved over time.
Gender and Language Processing
How do we deal with gender when we process language? Do we take it into consideration when we hear words and sentences? In this episode, we talk about gender and language processing: the different kinds of gender in language, how gender influences our ability to retrieve words from our mental dictionaries, and how our views on gender temporarily keep us from considering otherwise legitimate interpretations of sentences.
Pidgins and Creoles
How do we communicate with groups who don't speak the same language as us? What happens when kids start learning the linguistic systems we construct? In this episode, we talk about pidgins and creoles: what pidgins tend to have in common, how pidgins are like and not like natural languages, and what happens when kids take a pidgin and change it into something new.
How do some languages get to be so widespread? What happens to them once they're in such broad use? In this episode, we talk about lingua francas: where they come from, and how they grow. We also discuss a few different examples: English, Latin, Nahuatl, and Indonesian!
What did our languages sound like before we had written records? How can we work that out? In this episode, we talk about historical reconstruction of languages: what methods we can use to rebuild long-dead systems, what groupings of languages we can put together using these techniques, and if there’s a limit to how far back we can go.
Taboo Language and Euphemisms
What kinds of words are off-limits in different languages? How deeply does profanity affect us? In this episode, we talk about taboo language and euphemisms: how they work, when we're allowed to use what, how psychologically deep they go, and why we can't run on the same euphemisms forever.