Episode 45: Tracing languages back before recorded history

A new episode of Lingthusiasm!

Listen here to Episode 45: Tracing languages back before recorded history

Language is much older than writing. But audio and visual cues from sounds and signs don’t leave physical traces the way writing does. So when linguists want to figure out how people talked before history started being recorded, we need to engage in some careful detective work, by comparing two or more similar, known languages to (potentially!) reconstruct a hypothetical common ancestor.  

In this episode, your hosts Lauren Gawne and Gretchen McCulloch get enthusiastic about these prehistoric languages that historical linguists have reconstructed, known as proto-languages. We dive into some of our favourite proto-languages (Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Algonquian, Proto-Pama-Nyungan, and Proto-Bantu), look at their characteristic grammatical signatures, and explain what we can and can’t know about the people who spoke them based on their vocabularies. 


This month’s bonus episode is about doing linguistics with kids! Child language acquisition is a perennial source of entertainment for the linguistically-inclined – and so is helping any young people in your life develop an interest in linguistics. In this episode, we talk about some of our favourite things to observe about how kids are learning language as well as linguistically-relevant books for children, middle grade, and young adult. Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to get access to this and 39 other bonus episodes, and to chat with fellow lingthusiasts in the Lingthusiasm patron Discord.


We are delighted to announce the winners of the 2020 LingComm Grants. Here are the project titles for the 4 grantees, and there’s more information about each project on the LingComm website, as well as two honourable mentions. We’re very excited to share more with you as they develop.

  • The Black Language Podcast (Anansa Benbow)

  • Nonbinary Linguistics youtube channel (Nina Lorence-Ganong)

  • Jazicharnica (Јазичарница) blog (Nina Tunteva and Viktorija Blazheska)

  • War of Words podcast (Juana de los Santos; Angela Makeviciuz; Antonella Moschetti; Néstor Bermúdez)

We had over 75 applications from around the world and we’d like to thank all applicants for making the job of deciding extremely difficult! 


New masks

By popular demand, our IPA, Tree and Esoteric Symbol designs are now available on these new non-medical grade reusable fabric masks from Redbubble. On our store you’ll find the white IPA characters on blackred or navy, and the esoteric symbols in white on black or green on black. If you fancy another colour, or the tree design, we’ve made masks available on all of the scarf pages.

Also check out our Schwa (Never Stressed) pins, IPA scarves, IPA socks, and more at RedBubble.


Here are the links mentioned in this episode:

You can listen to this episode via Lingthusiasm.com, Soundcloud, RSS, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also download an mp3 via the Soundcloud page for offline listening, and stay tuned for a transcript of this episode on the Lingthusiasm website. To receive an email whenever a new episode drops, sign up for the Lingthusiasm mailing list.

You can help keep Lingthusiasm advertising-free by supporting our Patreon. Being a patron gives you access to bonus content and lets you help decide on Lingthusiasm topics.

Lingthusiasm is on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Email us at contact [at] lingthusiasm [dot] com

Gretchen is on Twitter as @GretchenAMcC and blogs at All Things Linguistic.

Lauren is on Twitter as @superlinguo and blogs at Superlinguo.

Lingthusiasm is created by Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne. Our senior producer is Claire Gawne, our editorial producer is Sarah Dopierala, and our music is ‘Ancient City’ by The Triangles.

Here’s the link again to Episode 45: Tracing languages back before recorded history

Thanks for listening, and stay Lingthusiastic!

Lauren & Gretchen

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