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

Episode 44: Schwa, the most versatile English vowel

A new episode of Lingthusiasm!

Listen here to Episode 44: Schwa, the most versatile English vowel

The words about, broken, council, potato, and support have something in common – they all contain the same sound, even though they each spell it with a different letter. This sound is known as schwa, it’s written as an upside-down lowercase e, and it has the unique distinction of being the only vowel with a cool name like that! (The other vowels are called, unglamorously, things like “high front unrounded vowel”).

In this episode of Lingthusiasm, your hosts Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne get enthusiastic about why the schwa is cool enough to get its own name! We also talk about why the word schwa doesn’t itself have a schwa in it, the origin of the word schwa in Hebrew and German, the relationship between schwa and “silent e”, and how schwa contributes to an English-sounding accent in other languages. Schwa is also a big reason why English spelling is so difficult, because other vowels often become schwa when they’re not in a stressed syllable (giving rise to lots of jokes like “I wanna be a schwa, it’s never stressed).


This month’s bonus episode is about numbers! We talk about fossilized number systems (which explain words like “eleven” and “twelve” in Germanic languages), counting gestures and different base systems in various languages (from base 6 to base 27), and indefinite hyperbolic numerals (words like “bazillion” and “umpteen”). Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to get access to the numbers episode, as well as 38 other bonus episodes, and to chat with fellow lingthusiasts in the Lingthusiasm patron Discord.

We can all aspire to be a little less stressed, like our favourite English vowel. We’ve created new Schwa (Never Stressed) merch. Available in a floral garland, stylised geometric black on white and stylised geometric white on black. Pins, cards, mugs, and mobile phone cases. Art by Lucy Maddox www.lucymaddox.com. Lingthusiasm merch makes a great gift for yourself or other lingthusiasts! Also check out IPA scarves, IPA socks, and more at lingthusiasm.redbubble.com


Have a great idea for a linguistics communication project, but need a bit of money to get it off the ground? Looking to support emerging lingcomm projects? The LingComm Grant is four $500 grants for communicating linguistics to broader audiences in 2020. Applications close 1st of June 2020. Find out more and apply here.


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 44: Schwa, the most versatile English vowel

Thanks for listening, and stay Lingthusiastic!

Lauren & Gretchen

Episode 43: The grammar of singular they - Interview with Kirby Conrod

A new episode of Lingthusiasm!

Listen here to Episode 43: The grammar of singular they - Interview with Kirby Conrod

Using “they” to refer to a single person is about as old as using “you” to refer to a single person: for example, Shakespeare has a line “There’s not a man I meet but doth salute me. As if I were their well-acquainted friend”, and the Oxford English Dictionary has citations for both going back to the 14th century. More recently, people have also been using singular they to refer to a specific person, as in “Alex left their umbrella”. 

In this episode, your host Gretchen McCulloch interviews Dr Kirby Conrod, a linguist who wrote their dissertation about the syntax and sociolinguistics of singular they. We talk about Kirby’s research comparing how people use third person pronouns (like they, she, and he) in a way that conveys social attitudes, like how some languages use formal and informal “you”, specific versus generic singular they, and how people go about changing their mental grammars for social reasons. 


This month’s bonus episode is about synesthesia, and research on various kinds of synesthesia, including the much-studied grapheme-colour, sound-colour, and time-space synesthesia, as well as rarer varieties such as Gretchen’s attitude-texture synesthesia which she’s never heard of anyone else having. Also, our producer Claire realized she was actually a synesthete while editing this episode! Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to gain access to the teaching linguistics episode and 37 previous bonus episodes, and to chat with fellow lingthusiasts in the Lingthusiasm patron Discord. 

Lingthusiasm merch makes a great gift for yourself or other lingthusiasts! Check out IPA scarves, IPA socks, and more at lingthusiasm.redbubble.com


Have a great idea for a linguistics communication project, but need a bit of money to get it off the ground? Looking to support emerging lingcomm projects? The LingComm Grant is four $500 grants for communicating linguistics to broader audiences in 2020. Applications close 1st of June 2020. Find out more and apply here.


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 43: The grammar of singular they - Interview with Kirby Conrod

Thanks for listening, and stay Lingthusiastic!

Lauren & Gretchen

Episode 42: What makes a language “easy”? It’s a hard question

A new episode of Lingthusiasm!

Listen here to Episode 42: What makes a language “easy”? It’s a hard question

Asking which language is the hardest to learn is like asking where the furthest place is – it all depends on where you start. And for babies, who start out not knowing any of them, all natural languages are eminently learnable – because otherwise they wouldn’t exist at all! 

In this episode of Lingthusiasm, your hosts Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne get enthusiastic about a common question: what are people really asking when they ask about “easy” or “hard” languages? It turns out that there are several things going on, including which languages you already know, whether you’re approaching a language as an adult or a child, and what sort of motivation and contexts to speak it you have.  


This month’s bonus episode is about teaching linguistics, and how you can be your own best teacher even if you aren’t heading to university any time soon. We discuss ways to make learning about more than just terminology, how to get right into data from the beginning, and how to keep a clear picture of how linguistics is relevant to other things you’re studying or enjoying. Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to gain access to the teaching linguistics episode and 36 previous bonus episodes, and to chat with fellow lingthusiasts in the Lingthusiasm patron Discord. New this month we’re also doing a couple listen-along chats in the Discord as well, so you can stream the episode at the same time as fellow lingthusiasts and chat with each other in the channel for that! 

Lingthusiasm merch makes a great gift for yourself or other lingthusiasts! Check out IPA scarves, IPA socks, and more at lingthusiasm.redbubble.com


Have a great idea for a linguistics communication project, but need a bit of money to get it off the ground? Looking to support emerging lingcomm projects? The LingComm Grant is a $500 grant for communicating linguistics to broader audiences in 2020.

If we reach 790 patrons by the 1st of May 2020, we’ll give out four grants instead of two. Applications close 1st of June 2020. Find out more and apply here


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 42: What makes a language “easy”? It’s a hard question

Thanks for listening, and stay Lingthusiastic!

Lauren & Gretchen

Episode 41: This time it gets tense - The grammar of time

A new episode of Lingthusiasm!

Listen here to Episode 41: This time it gets tense - The grammar of time

How do languages talk about the time when something happens? Of course, we can use words like “yesterday”, “on Tuesday”, “once upon a time”, “now”, or “in a few minutes”. But some languages also require their speakers to use an additional small piece of language to convey time-related information, and this is called tense. 

In this episode of Lingthusiasm, your hosts Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne talk about when some languages obligatorily encode time into their grammar. We look at how linguists go about determining whether a language has tense at all, and if so, how many tenses it has, from two tenses (like English past and non-past), to three tenses (past, present, and future), to further tenses, like remote past and on-the-same-day.


This month’s bonus episode is about what happens when the robots take over Lingthusiasm! In this extension of our interview with Janelle Shane from Episode 40, we train a neural net to generate new Lingthusiasm episodes and perform some of the most absurd ones for you. Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to gain access to the Robot-Lingthusiasm episode and 35 previous bonus episodes, and to chat with fellow lingthusiasts in the Lingthusiasm patron Discord.

Lingthusiasm merch makes a great gift for yourself or other lingthusiasts! Check out IPA scarves, IPA socks, and more at lingthusiasm.redbubble.com

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 

Thanks for listening, and stay Lingthusiastic!

Lauren & Gretchen

Loading more posts…