It’s been quiet on the language front recently. But the podcasts are coming back now that I’ve completed editing and part-reporting a series on social class around the world.
The entire series, with stories out of Egypt, India, China, the United States, Britain and Ukraine is here.
I reported two stories out of the UK. The first is on an exam that all 11-year-olds used to have to take (and is now making a modest comeback). The Eleven Plus exam determined which school you would go to next– a school that prepped you for college, or one that housed you until you were ready to go to work at fifteen or sixteen. There’s a post on it here. Or listen to the audio below:
I also reported on whether any nation can transform itself into a classless society. Britain, again, was an obvious choice for this report: traditionally, it has been horribly class-ridden. But in recent decades a succession of political leaders on both right and left has tried to banish class identity and difference. The full blog post is here. And the audio is below.
This week, the nuanced — and sometimes not so nuanced — world of diplomatic insults: we hurl a few your way, coutesy of Hugo Chavez, Hillary Clinton and Winston Churchill. There’s also an overheated exhange in the British parliament between then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and leader of the opposition Neil Kinnock, which goes something like this: insult (Thatcher), outraged indignation (Kinnock), quasi-retraction (Thatcher).
We follow this with news of so-called click languages. My colleague David Cohn has been finding out about these and he’s posted some thoughts and links in the science section of The World’s website. Here’s the headline: linguists have figured out how to decipher and classify clicks— and some languages have a huge number of of them. Just as well that the linguists are discovering this now. Some of these languages are about to kick the bucket. You can listen to the sounds of one of them here.
Next up, that underestimated vegetable the cucumber. Norwegian is one of several languages (Dutch, Polish and German are others) that appropriate the word cucumber to describe what we English speakers call silly season. That’s the time of the year — now, as it happens — when we in the news media resort to covering shark attacks, dogs reunited with their owners, and astronauts’ underwear. (Actually, we do these stories year-round, but during the silly season, they wind up on the front page). Norwegians and others supposedly put cucumber harvest season on their front pages. No wonder newspapers are in trouble.
Finally, many French fans of Harry Potter novels read the books in English. Or at least they did before the books were translated into French.
Listen in iTunes or here.