The World in Words

The World in Words


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 so inventive? Why does Icelandic have so many cool swearwords? Patrick Cox and Nina Porzucki bring you stories from the world’s linguistic frontlines. Also at


How the Miami Tribe got its language back  

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?

Toppling the Tower of Babel  

When Netflix launched their talk show "Chelsea" this past May, they promised to deliver it three times a week in more than 20 languages. To do that, they had to invent a whole new translation process. We're in this interesting moment in media. The internet has made communicating with others across the globe easy and instant. But despite all the chatter about the global rise of English, the Tower of Babel still stands. The world remains multilingual, and not always translated. But more than a century ago, filmmakers thought they had found the key to tumbling the Tower of Babel. Directors like Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith felt that silent film was the perfect medium to bring the world together, unite us all, be our “visual Esperanto.” And then sound came and wrecked everything. This week on the podcast we go back to the silent film era and examine what happened when sound entered the picture. We also get a peek into Netflix’s solution to translating Chelsea at a rapid rate and ensuring that the show is still funny in 20 languages.

Sing to me in Vietnamese  

A Vietnamese-American stays in touch with her cultural roots through language and song. But which language besides English will she pass on to her own children? Vietnamese or...Spanish?

Sorry we killed off your language  

The Canadian government eliminated many indigenous languages by sending children to church-run boarding schools. But the government has apologized and pledged to help bring back those languages. In British Columbia, the Ktunaxa language is making a modest comeback.

So, what are your pronouns?  

What pronouns do you use? Have you ever been asked? Do you ask others their pronouns? This week on the podcast, we hand over the reins to our talented summer intern Paulus van Horne to share a very personal story about pronouns. In the spring of 2016, Paulus came out as non-binary at college, asking friends and teachers to use the gender neutral pronouns they/them their. This summer at The World, Paulus came out for the first time at a workplace. This is their story.

The Last Native Speakers of Hawaiian  

Hawaiian is often offered up as a language revitalization success story, a model for other endangered languages to follow. But language revitalization isn’t so simple. While activists are reviving the Hawaiian language, opening up pre-schools, teaching thousands of second language learners there was and still is a small group of native speakers who have never lost the language, a group of native Hawaiians from the island of Niihau. This week The World in Words takes a trip to the Hawaiian Islands to meet some of Hawaii’s last native speakers. How have they managed to hold onto the language? What struggles do they face going forward? Is the variation of Hawaiian that the Niihau speak different from the language spoken by the activists leading the Hawaiian revitalization movement?

Arabic as Americans hear it  

This just in: Arabic is not a violent ideology. It is a language that a handful of Americans are learning and loving.

Live show: From Ainu to Zaza  

Nina, Patrick and friends record this episode in front of a live audience at the New York Public Library. They discuss the rewards and challenges of language revitalization, complete with singalongs and a few dodgy jokes.

Deciphering the world's strangest encyclopedia  

In the late 1970s the writer Alberto Manguel was working in Milan for an Italian publisher that had taken to publishing hidden or little-known manuscripts found in secret libraries. One day the publishing house received a package that contained a strange manuscript written in incomprehensible script. There was no note with the manuscript. No sign of who sent it or where it came from. This manuscript was more than strange, it was as if the publishing house had been gifted the encyclopedia of an alien planet with diagrams of everything on that planet from microbes to fantastical beasts to unusual vehicles and houses, the elements of a completely unknown civilization, all described in a strange swirly script. A note soon followed from the author of the text, Luigi Serafini. This week on The World in Words podcast, a mystery of encyclopedic proportions.

Who in Japan speaks Ainu?  

Japan's indigenous Ainu language is a mystery. Russian-born Anna Bugaeva is one of several non-Ainu linguists who have become semi-fluent in the language. They are on a mission to document Ainu, and figure out where it came from, before it disappears.

Languages real and unreal  

Dutch-born writer Gaston Dorren grew up speaking two languages, fell in love in a third, and added a fourth and fifth along the way. OK, he's obsessed with languages but in much of Europe multilingualism is common. Also, who owns Klingon?

Vikings, Yankees, and funny pronunciation  

New England is full of names that have odd and unexpected pronunciations. Woburn is more like WOOOOburn; Billerica gets transformed into Bill-Ricka. One of the more unexpected variations comes from a small town in New Hampshire with a familiar name — Berlin — but a pronunciation that isn’t at all like that of the German capital. Instead, it becomes BARlin, with emphasis on the first syllable. This week on the podcast Nina Porzucki sets out to unravel the mystery of how Berlin became “BARlin” as part of our Nametag series on place names. Plus Patrick Cox gets put to the test in pronouncing village names around Norfolk, England, and we speak with a Viking expert who studies place names in Old Norse around England.

Etruscan: a mystery  

The Etruscans lived in central Italy more than 2500 years ago. They were "the teachers of our teachers," the Romans. Yet we still can't be sure where they came from. The key to unlocking the Etruscan enigma may lie in genetics and linguistics.

J'ai backé mon car dans la driveway  

If you want to upset French language purists, learn to speak Chiac. It's a dialect of Acadian French spoken in New Brunswick that borrows liberally from English. Even as other North American dialects and languages are vanishing, Chiac seems to be sticking around.

389: The French Socialist Roots of Dallas, Texas  

What’s in a name? Turns out more than you might think. What’s the deal with Tightsqueeze, Virgina? Where did the name for Dallas’ famous Reunion Tower come from? This week on the podcast we’re going to dive into some of these Nametag stories. Nametag is our occasional series on the stories behind places names. We’ll hear from The World’s intern Kenny Sokan on the stories behind some of the seedier place names in the United States. And producer Julia Barton takes us to her hometown of Dallas, Texas where she’s uncovered a dusty footnote in Dallas history linking a French socialist experiment to the Texas town.

Speak Irish to me  

For centuries, colonialists, church leaders and educators discouraged Irish people from using their native tongue. When Ireland won its independence, its leaders had no idea just how difficult it would be to bring the language back. Despite that, there's hope for Irish today.

So many Moscows  

Have you ever wondered about the name of a place? Why that name? Who named it? Why is it pronounced the way that it is? Well, The World in Words is going to dig into the stories behind place names in the United States and abroad. This will be part of an occasional series we’re calling Nametag. Our first Nametag story comes from reporter Alina Simone. She went on a quest to find out why 26 towns around the US are named Moscow. We want questions from you, dear listeners! What names have always tickled your fancy and made you scratch your head why? They can be names of streets or towns or buildings or mountains – anything! Send us your queries via email: or hit us up on The World in Words Facebook page or tweet at us @lingopod.

Is bilingual better?  

English speakers may not realize it, but the world is full of people who speak more than one language. A couple of recent studies show that we begin to develop our ear for language-- or languages-- long before we learn to speak.

Languages of love  

New to The World in Words? Well, first off, thanks for listening. And if you liked the Eddie Izzard episode last week, you might enjoy our episode with French comic Gad Elmaleh or our episode about the Pop Punk Accent. For all that and more head to This week the World in Words goes down several internet worm holes to explore the intersection of love and language. Valentine’s Day may have come and gone but love shouldn’t be sequestered to one measly day. So, bring on the love. In this episode Patrick Cox goes on a musical quest to find the most beautiful Danish love song. And Nina Porzucki speaks with linguist and romance novelist, Julie Tetel Andresen about her theory on why love and language at their very heart (pun intended) are driven by the same human need. Finally, writer Virge Randall shares her very personal story of losing love and subsequently language. It’s a heartfelt episode the week after Valentine’s Day. Come spend some quality time with us.

Eddie Izzard will make you laugh in four languages  

This week on the World in Words: Comedian Eddie Izzard. Eddie Izzard has often joked about language from the silliness of Latin to why English speakers are so stubbornly monolingual. However, in late ‘90’s, Eddie decided that it wasn’t enough to joke about language; he wanted to joke in other languages. So in 1997 he took the stage and did his first set in France in French. It wasn't funny, he admits, but it was the start of a career goal to do stand-up in as many languages as possible. Eventually he did feel funny (and fluent) in French. Now, nearly two decades after that first French show, he has toured in not only French but German and Spanish. He intends to learn Russian and Arabic next. This week The World in Words sat down with Izzard to find out why he’s decided to take his humor around the globe and how he’s managed to learn all these languages.

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