And now we come to my fourth and last post about linguistics podcasts, which I promised almost two weeks ago. You get two for the price of one here — well, more like 2¼ for the price of one, as we will be discussing not only the oldest and best linguistic podcast, Lexicon Valley, but also the Freakonomics podcast, which includes a few episodes about linguistics, much to everyone’s surprise.
Lexicon Valley has been an every-two-weeks podcast for 68 months (a century in podcast terms). Originally hosted by the skilled and entertaining Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo, the show has now been hosted by John McWhorter for a year and a half. McWhorter is perhaps the leading popular American linguist and was an outstanding choice for this show. He manages to straddle the line between academe and the general public with aplomb, much as the late lamented Isaac Asimov used to do in many other fields, especially science. McWhorter’s voice rings with well-deserved authority (he is a professor at Columbia with a couple dozen excellent books to his name, some more academic and some definitely popularized). Like Asimov, McWhorter is a true polymath, as can be seen by the fact that he teaches not only linguistics but also comparative literature, music theory, philosophy, American studies, and who knows what else.
The Lexicon Valley podcast under McWhorter (sometimes with guests, sometimes without) spans a huge variety of fascinating topics, so you’ll just have to listen to the podcast. Some of his colleagues consider some of his theories a bit strange, but so what? — hear what he has to say anyway. Here is a randomly selected list of the titles of eight of his recent shows:
- Are Emojis a Language?
- Billy and me went to the store. Deal with it.
- Language lessons of past presidents.
- Black like us.
- Like, why do we use like so much?
- The language of female friendships.
- Is there a Jewish way of talking?
- Este No Es Parqueo: A Brief Ode to Spanish.
As you can tell from these titles, the emphasis here is not on the technical aspects of linguistics but rather on topics with popular appeal, such as sociolinguistics. That’s how it should be. And McWhorter is always understandable and entertaining, so listen to him — and read him as well!
OK, so what about Freakonomics? If you’ve read any of the books with that title, you expect topics in behavioral economics and the like in their podcasts. The linguistic podcasts are indeed related to that theme, but you may have to work a bit to see the connection. Three episodes from last month are thoroughly linguistic in nature:
- Why don’t we all speak the same language?
- What would be the best universal language?
- Why learn Esperanto?
All three of these are well done and worth listening to. The third is downright inspiring, IMHO, especially if you have dismissed Esperanto (or, worse yet, don’t know what it is).