Language

Word of Mouth
10:37 am
Wed November 6, 2013

Schadenfreude! Zeitgeist! German Words That Capture The Indescribable

Zach is feeling the Zeitgeist...or something.
Credit Rebecca Lavoie for NHPR

In German, there's an expression for kicking through piles of leaves, and for the conviction that all large houses must have secret passages. In other words, Germans have expressions for things we don't, and they're pretty great. Just think about the ones we've adopted without thought, like 'Wanderlust.' 

Author Ben Schott’s Miscellanies  and annual almanacs have sold millions and been translated into more than a dozen languages. Now, he’s completed a compendium of compounds to describe the inexpressible. It’s called Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition.

Read more
Word of Mouth
10:10 am
Mon August 12, 2013

Giving Old Words New Life

Credit zolierdos via Flickr Creative Commons

Language evolves. Try reading Chaucer or Shakespeare, or even watching an early 20th-century movie and listen for the words or expressions that have grown obsolete and others that take on new meanings or popularity. You may not refer to a bar-fight as a ‘brannigan,’ for example, but you might say, “‘hang out’ with a friend” …that last phrase was invented way back in the eighteen forties. Linguist and author Arika Okrent compiled a list of words that are much older than they sound for “The Week,” and she told us a little more about them.

Read more
Word of Mouth
1:28 pm
Tue July 23, 2013

The Linguistic Software That Exposed J.K. Rowling

Credit Thalita Carvalho via Flickr Creative Commons

Last week, author J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame was uncovered as true author behind The Cuckoo’s Calling, a mystery novel written under the pen-name Robert Galbraith. Signed first editions of the book are now selling for over six thousand dollars, a testament to the value of a name. The reporters at the Sunday Times who broke the Rowling story consulted several academics whose methods of determining authorship relied heavily on software they had developed for that very purpose.

Read more
Word of Mouth
8:58 am
Wed July 10, 2013

Studying Slang With An Etymologist

Credit teachernz via flickr Creative Commons

For four decades, Dr. Gerald Cohen has pored over documents, texts and pop culture to study etymology--the history and origins of words and how their meanings change over time. Working with the world’s top language historians, Dr. Cohen publishes “Comments on Etymology,” a journal of the peculiar origins of words and phrases like ‘brainstorm’ and ‘hot dog’. The journal cannot be found online, or even at university libraries…its circulation is under one hundred, and it’s published on paper. Gerald Cohen is professor in the Department of Arts, Languages and Philosophy at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Read more
Word of Mouth
10:00 pm
Fri May 18, 2012

Word of Mouth 05.19.2012

(Photo by thedamnmushroom via Flickr Creative Commons)

Part 1: The Rise of the Brogrammer

Produced by Jonathan Lynch

In the 1980s classic comedy revenge of the nerds, there was a clear cut boundary between the titular nerds and the preppy, popular frat boys that sought to humiliate them. A recent culture trend in Silicon Valley is looking to completely upend that convention by fusing the two. A new breed of software engineers is on the horizon, and they are just as likely to fine tune code as they are to lift weights and party on the weekend.

Read more
Word of Mouth
12:15 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

From Elvish to Klingon

Photo by *nettie*, via Flickr Creative Commons

It’s a fiction writer’s job to create authentic worlds  and suspend disbelief. One of the more time-consuming techniques in their toolbox? Inventing new languages – like the two forms of elvish used throughout J.R.R Tolkien's the Lord of the Rings. Michael Adams is a professor of English at Indiana

Read more
Asia
11:38 am
Mon April 16, 2012

For Japanese Linguist, A Long And Lonely Schlep

Japanese linguist Kazuo Ueda (left) worked 20 years on a 1,300-page, 28,000-entry Idishugo Jiten, or Yiddish-Japanese dictionary. He is shown here with his wife, Kazuko, at their home in Kyushu, Japan.
Lucy Craft for NPR

A smattering of Yiddish words has crept into the American vernacular: Non-Jews go for a nosh or schmooze over cocktails. Yet the language itself, once spoken by millions of Jews, is now in retreat.

But you don't have to be Jewish to love Yiddish. In Japan, a linguist has toiled quietly for decades to compile the world's first Yiddish-Japanese dictionary — the first time the Jewish language has been translated into a non-European language other than Hebrew.

Read more
All Tech Considered
3:41 pm
Mon March 19, 2012

Digital Technologies Give Dying Languages New Life

In an undated photo, members of the Siletz tribe gather for the Siletz Feather Dance in Newport, Ore. The tribe is using digital tools to help preserve its native language.
Courtesy of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians

Originally published on Mon March 19, 2012 8:45 pm

There are some 7,000 spoken languages in the world, and linguists project that as many as half may disappear by the end of the century. That works out to one language going extinct about every two weeks. Now, digital technology is coming to the rescue of some of those ancient tongues.

Members of the Native American Siletz tribe in Oregon say their native language, also called "Siletz," "is as old as time itself." But today, you can count the number of fluent speakers on one hand. Siletz Tribal Council Vice Chairman Bud Lane is one of them.

Read more
Author Interviews
2:25 pm
Sun March 4, 2012

A Road Trip In Search Of America's Lost Languages

Trip of the Tongue cover detail
Bloomsbury Publishing

Originally published on Mon March 5, 2012 1:38 pm

The vast majority of the 175 indigenous languages still spoken in the United States are on the verge of extinction.

Linguist Elizabeth Little spent two years driving all over the country looking for the few remaining pockets where those languages are still spoken — from the scores of Native American tongues, to the Creole of Louisiana. The resulting book is Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America's Lost Languages.

Read more
All Things Considered
1:28 pm
Fri March 2, 2012

Practicing for the Spelling Bee? Grab an iPod

This weekend the New Hampshire State Spelling Bee takes place in Concord; NHPR is a sponsor of the event, in which the Granite State’s top spellers hope to make short work of long words the rest of us would probably trip over.

Read more
Word of Mouth - Segment
12:44 pm
Thu January 12, 2012

A Campaign to End Awesome? NOOOO!!!!

Evan Hahn via Flickr Creative Commons

Produced by Avishay Artsy

We all have our linguistic pet peeves. I, for one, bristle when I hear “literally” to describe things that aren’t literal at all. I admit, I was an English major, and still grieve a little inside when people use “was” for the conditional tense instead of “were.” A painter and writer living in Los Angeles is campaigning against a far less arcane peeve: the overuse of “awesome”. 

Read more
Word of Mouth - Segment
9:56 am
Wed December 21, 2011

Love Untranslatable

Photo by: Darwin Bell

The English language is remarkable for the richness of its vocabulary. The revised Oxford English Dictionary includes over 600,000 words, however English is the only language that has, or needs, a thesaurus. There are twice as many words in common use in English than in French. Nonetheless, sometimes English words fail us -- at least when it comes to love. Our guest has compiled an illuminating top-ten list of foreign words describing nuances of love and relationships.

Read more