Say "Hwæt!".
November 16, 2015 10:21 AM   Subscribe

Interested in foreign languages and language history? As requested, here's a (highly subjective) selection of podcasts and blogs to keep you busy.

The History of English Podcast - With new episodes every two to three weeks, Kevin Stroud has, in 70 episodes to date, taken us from Indo-European to the Norman Conquest. There's a good dose of English history as well, and lots of examples of specific words as they enter the English vocabulary.

Learn Old English - Recently started and only in its fifth episode, Bob Kiley want to teach you how to speak, or at least understand, Old English. Episodes aren't too long (less than 20 minutes each), and Kiley tries not to burden you with more grammar than is strictly necessary. Even if you aren't studying seriously the episodes are enjoyable listening, both for the pleasure of the accent as Kiley reads lots of passages, and the way you can understand the occasional phrase before it's been explained to you, because it is English after all.

• Frisian is commonly known as the closest language to English that isn't just another variety of English. So have some Fun With Frisian. Updated approximately once a month, you may not recognize many words (unless you know some Dutch or German), but once you've been told that "Alle minsken binn' myn broerren, En de hiele wrâld myn thús..." means "All people are my brothers, And the whole world is my home..." you might start to believe that the two languages are brothers.

Language Log is the blog whose name you might drop when you're trying to impress an actual linguist. With two to three posts a day contributed by a roster of academics it can get more technical than most popular blogs, but amateurs can still get something out of it. Frequent subjects are modern Chinese language issues (from Victor Mair) and medium-length data explorations (from Mark Liberman). The site also hosts the definitive analysis of the phrase "begs the question", including where it came from, what it should mean vs. how it is generally used, and why we should probably just give up on it now.

• The Lexicon Valley podcast brings together Bob Garfield (from On The Media) and Mike Vuolo every two weeks to discuss a linguistic issue or just a single word. Recent shows have tracked the origins of humdinger, gringo, and cockamamie. You could do worse than listen to their episode "What’s the Deal With Translating Seinfeld?".

• If you've got an intermediate level of French and are looking to become more refined and precise in you expression, Jean-Pierre Colignon's postings on Le mot du Jour are for you. Written in French for a French audience (you may have to resort to Google Translate), a single word is ripped from the headlines and has its history, connotations, and proper usage explained. Recent instances have included dézinguer, vice-chancelier, and gribouille.

Colignon's posts sometimes include La bourde du jour (The Goof of the Day, e.g. it's meurtres, not meutres), L’articulet « dico » du jour (The Dictionary Item of the Day), or La question du jour, e.g. "Why is the past participle of s’arroger invariable, while the verb is essentially pronominal?" You can also find out when Colignon is administering the next dictée, the French version of a spelling bee, where it's important to know the difference between vendéen(ne) adj., n., and Vendéen(ne) n. pr., or the subtle distinctions between « la der des der » and « la der des ders ». Colignon will appeal to the fussy copy-editor in your soul, should you have one.

• Another resource in French, if your interests run nerdy, is La tête au carré, a daily news podcast on science. (RSS feed, which can be hard to find on France Inter's web site.) Science words can be easier to recognize in a foreign language — proton means proton, australopithèque means australopithecus — but you often have to anagram the acronyms — SIDA is AIDS, ADN is DNA.

• If you want to learn some Hebrew check out Guy Sharett's StreetWise Hebrew Podcast. Like many Semitic languages, Hebrew words are often built around 3-letter roots which get stretched to cover a wide range of meanings. Their episode Which Way to the 'Sherutim'? covers the shin-resh-taf (שרת) root, whose meaning of 'service' gets extended to cover 'bathrooms', 'computer server', and 'ministering angels'.

• It's not an ongoing podcast or blog, but why not take 15 minutes and Learn To Read Korean with Ryan Estrada's comic.

• Simon Ager loves languages, all languages. First he created the Omniglot On-line Encyclopedia, an incredible resource on languages. (Want to know how to wish someone "Happy Birthday" in Breton? He's got you covered.) Alongside the web site Simon also posts regularly at the Omniglot Blog. Check out the weekly Language Quiz, where he posts an audio clip in an un-identified language and visitors try to guess where it's from.

Effective Swearing in D.F. has sadly gone quiet, but it's too beautiful to ignore. The D.F. is the distrito federal, a.k.a. Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. DF natives call each other chilangos, and have their own set of slang words and phrases. (Note: Only use the name chilango with close friends, and maybe not even then. It's that kind of word.) DF slang is baroque, foul, and creative. Check out Mear pa'rriba and Pinche mil chingocientos, and don't ask your Mexican friend's sweet mother to clarify the meaning of phrases you have trouble understanding.

World Wide Words is where Michael Quinion tracks down the history and meanings of obscure English words and phrases from Australia to Scotland to England and sometimes even America. If pig-sick, vellichor, adimpleate, and gone for a Burton appeal to you, methinks you should become a regular visitor.

• Dutch has a cool Word of the Day site.

• Did you know that, just like there is a language of flowers (mimosas mean chastity, camellias represent perfection), there is a language of hats too? One man posts daily to his blog, Languagehat, where he documents the semiotic subtleties of the trilby, the bowler, and the homburg.

These are all targeted at the casual language lover. If you want to dedicate more time you can dive deep into the world of (highly offensive) Russian slang, keep up to date on the latest scholarly advances in deciphering Mayan writing, or explore the glory and the grammar of the Qur'an. There are still plenty of sites and podcasts and I could keep going on and on but I'm afraid I've run out of words.
posted by benito.strauss (23 comments total) 173 users marked this as a favorite
(Oh, and I do need to seriously credit languagehat (tip of the language hat?), as the successful Google searches that re-located "swearing in D.F." and the "begs the question" post went through his blog. Additional thanks for good linking practices and keeping all your posts available on-line.)
posted by benito.strauss at 10:36 AM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Lovely. Thank you.
posted by painquale at 10:41 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

This post may be what I need to educate myself about the history of English a little bit more.

I'm the worst linguist; I know nothing I haven't been forced to learn, English bores me to tears. Perhaps if I consume English history in podcast form while doing laundry...

Seriously, this looks like an awesome post to comb through.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:42 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Awesome. Freakin'. Post.

Welp, time to fire up the old circolwyrde and update my podcast feeds!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:45 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend Radiotopia's The Allusionist, hosted by Helen Zaltzmann (whose brother Andy hosts The Bugle podcast with John Oliver).

I also follow A Way With Words (lighthearted look into the source of Americanisms) and Talk the Talk (a radio show about current topics in linguistics), both of which have accompanied me falling asleep for quite some time. Easier listens.

For anyone trying to improve listening skills in Portuguese, there's a very straightforward dialogue + line-by-line translation show called "Learn Portuguese - Brazilian PodClass." It's biggest strength is that there are over 500 episodes.
posted by Don Don at 10:45 AM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Always regret not auditing the Anglo-Saxon course while an undergraduate. Not sure if I'm up for learning it now via podcast, but I'm happy to know of that resource. The History of English podcast seems promising and I'll give it a go.
posted by resurrexit at 10:47 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I minored in Spanish, and one of the things my advisor suggested her students do was listen to sports broadcasts in Spanish. (Boston has a large enough Spanish population that the Red Sox broadcast in Spanish and English.) Since baseball isn't my thing, I listen to a lot of Latin music podcasts.
posted by pxe2000 at 10:47 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

and Pinche mil chingocientos

Travel tip: never say anything to a Spaniard who thinks he's funny anything ending in "cinco". Otherwise, enjoy the versatility of that word most Americans underuse.
posted by sukeban at 10:59 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Kutsuwamushi, I think there's something about one's native tongue where it's the basis of what language is for someone that it can almost never be surprising. The closest I've come is trying to explain subtleties to a very smart and inquisitive native-Russian speaking co-worker. He'd ask me questions, (often on the use of "the"), and I'd be amazed because he'd be right — it sounds wrong to leave out "the" in this sentence, but it sounds wrong to include it in this other one — but I'd have no idea why, and had to work hard to come up with whatever rule my subconscious language center was following.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:15 AM on November 16, 2015

resurrexit, the guy doing that Old English course is very chill about it. I'm only following it casually (like I'm not doing the vocabulary building work he recommends), but I'm enjoying the bits that I'm picking up here and there. I probably won't "learn" Old English this way, but I figure I'm building some familiarity so it'll be easier if I get serious in the future.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:20 AM on November 16, 2015

This post led me down the Old English rabbit hole to both Wulf and Eadwacer and (courtesy of languagehat's phenomenal blog) the Beowulf 4.0 online edition.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:23 AM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'd also add Gretchen McCulloch's blog; her work for The Toast is excellent as well.
posted by damayanti at 11:26 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a lot of experience being interrogated about English subtleties - I share an office with a syntactician, and you know how they are.

I think it's due to how I came to linguistics, through typology and historical linguistics. I've always been the most fascinated by trying to understand systems that I don't know (consciously or unconsciously). I suppose I am also bored a bit by Indo-European as a whole, because I like working on things that have not had quite so much attention over the years. But that's unfair, really, as English is as interesting as any other language.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:34 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do they speak Anglo-Saxon in "Hwæt" ?.
posted by idiopath at 12:06 PM on November 16, 2015 [15 favorites]

I miss John Wells's phonetic blog. It's still up, but he stopped updating it a few years back.
posted by scruss at 1:14 PM on November 16, 2015

Quechua Language Podcast. It's all in Quechua. The intro is obviously read from a script, so it sounds flat, but skip that and go straight to the interviews. I only know a few words in Quechua* but I like listening to it.

* I can count to 99, more if I think hard about it; and I can say "Channel 4, from Lima" (Tawa Canal, Limamanta Pacha)
posted by bentley at 1:40 PM on November 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

I just sent this to my mother, who once translated the first ten lines of Beowulf into Attic Greek for a term paper and who can (and will) still recite the beginning in both languages.
posted by newrambler at 3:34 PM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do they speak Anglo-Saxon in "Hwæt" ?

I'm entirely attached to the theory that the Hwæt! you find at the start of Anglo-Saxon poetry is what the person reciting the poem would shout to get the audience's attention. Picture a rowdy bunch of party goers in a mead hall who all go silent when they hear the speaker shout.

I am attached to this theory solely — solely! — because it means that Anglo-Saxon audiences literally turned down for hwæt.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:54 PM on November 16, 2015 [11 favorites]

(Also: if by some unforeseen circumstances I find myself producing a modern English translation of Beowulf, I assure you that I will be translating "Hwæt!" as "MIC CHECK!!")
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:37 PM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Thanks to your comment in the other thread I started listening to the History of English podcast this morning. I'm already hooked! Thank you!
posted by hapax_legomenon at 11:17 PM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I look forward to checking these out!

Another podcast I'd recommend is The World in Words from PRI - a look at news, current events and generally just interesting subjects through the lens of language.
posted by atlantica at 4:39 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Listening to that Quechua podcast is driving me a little crazy. There is the occasional entonces or bueno and the rest of the time my low-level brain is wondering why I can't recognize any of the other words. (My higher-level brain fully knows that Quechua isn't some dialect of Spanish, but apparently I've got a well developed "that word was Spanish, engage Spanish-understanding part of brain".)
posted by benito.strauss at 9:56 AM on November 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

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