Current Event February 24, 2021
Bats and humans may look very different, but it turns out they have something surprising in common. A bat researcher discovered that mommy bats change their voices when they talk to their babies, just like human mothers often do. For both species, this special tone is a way to help the young learn language. Listen to hear recordings of adult and baby bats vocalizing, and learn more about how mother bats teach their pups to communicate.
Current Event February 23, 2021
Oklahoma’s Cherokee Nation has prioritized those who speak the Cherokee language to receive the coronavirus vaccine. The language declined hundreds of years ago, when native populations were forced off their land, and today there are very few Cherokee speakers left. Mastery of the language is highly valued because it preserves native culture, and those who speak it can pass their knowledge to the next generation. Listen to hear a Cherokee sing a hymn in her native tongue, and learn why she changed her mind about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
Current Event January 28, 2021
Poet Amanda Gorman never expected to become a public speaker. Although she composed poetry from a young age, her speech impediment made it difficult for her to pronounce certain words. Recently, though, she stood at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. and delivered an original poem at the inauguration ceremony for President Joe Biden. At age 22, she is the youngest poet ever to receive that honor. Listen to Gorman describe why the event held special meaning for her, how she prepared for it, and why she sometimes revises her poems at the last minute.
Current Event January 13, 2021
Dogs and humans have long had a special relationship. Part of the reason they get along so well is that dogs can understand human language, at least some of it. But why can’t they learn more? To find out, researchers played words for dogs and observed how their brains responded. Listen to learn what scientists discovered about how dogs learn words and why it’s unlikely they will ever be able to understand Shakespeare.
Current Event December 8, 2020
The deaf community is considering how to say “Joe Biden” and “Kamala Harris” in sign language. Each of the country’s newly elected leaders has distinct characteristics, such as wavy hair or trademark sunglasses, that might translate into a sign. With the help of technology, the process of choosing new signs has become more inclusive, increasing the likelihood that they will be culturally sensitive. Listen to hear more about how new signs are chosen, and learn which ones are being considered for Biden and Harris.
Current Event December 3, 2020
“He” and “she” are useful pronouns for referring to people in many situations, but they are not suited for every occasion. Multiple options are now available as the English language continues to evolve, including the singular “they.” Experts say the search for gender-neutral pronouns dates back hundreds of years, when people wanted an inclusive pronoun to refer to gender-neutral nouns such as “person” or “writer.” Listen to learn more about the history of gender-neutral pronouns and hear a language expert’s views on choosing which to use.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee has only been cancelled twice, first for three years during World War II and then in the year 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. But that hasn’t stopped the spellers from studying, practicing, and learning new words. Two students who were supposed to compete in the 2020 spelling bee have some techniques and rituals they use to help them along. Listen to hear more about their quirky rituals and how they use strategies like identifying root words to help them spell unfamiliar words.
Current Event September 18, 2020
Text messaging is changing the way people are using punctuation to express themselves. Some feel that periods at the end of texts can indicate seriousness or even anger. Others believe that writing sentences without periods is an insult to their teachers. Not everyone uses punctuation in the same way, and a period at the end of a text can easily be misinterpreted. Listen to hear a variety of reactions to texts ending with periods then debate: Should texts include punctuation?
Current Event April 17, 2020
Teens in Argentina are pushing to make Spanish gender-neutral. They say the rules of the language favor men over women and exclude nonbinary people. The Royal Spanish Academy argues that it is important to maintain the purity of a language that has been spoken for hundreds of years. Listen to hear more about the dispute over changing Spanish and then debate: Should the Spanish language be gender-neutral?
Current Event March 20, 2020
A new definition was recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary, causing some concern. The word, a racial slur against Jews, has been used for years by fans of an English Premier League soccer team to refer to themselves. Opposing fans, though, often use the word in anti-Semitic chants. Some say adding it to the dictionary makes the offensive word seem more acceptable, but the publisher claims the dictionary is simply reflecting common usage. Listen to hear how English soccer fans feel about their controversial nickname and then debate: Should the dictionary reflect offensive language?
Current Event February 4, 2020
A new study finds that Latino youth face higher rates of depression than their black and white peers. The results reflect a range of problems Latinos in America are facing, including discrimination, violence, and for some, fear of deportation. Listen to hear a Latina teen explain how hateful words affect her and what she is doing to combat her sadness and anger.
Current Event November 12, 2019
“Quid pro quo” refers to someone doing a favor for another person and expecting something in return. Exchanging favors is common, but off-limits to politicians who could abuse their power. Congress is investigating whether President Trump sought a quid pro quo from the president of Ukraine by asking him to investigate a political rival in exchange for releasing U.S. aid funds. Listen to learn how the meaning of the Latin term quid pro quo has evolved over centuries and why asking for a favor can be complicated, even embarrassing.
Current Event October 31, 2019
The editors of the Merriam-Webster dictionary added a new meaning of the pronoun “they” to its pages, sparking controversy. Although “they” has long been understood to mean several people, now it can also be used to refer to one person who does not identify as either male or female. Some people find this confusing, while others welcome the addition of a word that is already commonly used. Listen to hear a dictionary editor explain how the tricky decision to add a new word to the dictionary is made.
Current Event October 2, 2019
Have you ever wondered what chirping birds might be saying to each other? Squirrels seem to understand communications between their feathered neighbors, and they use this information to help them stay alive. Recently, scientists decided to see just how much information “eavesdropping” squirrels gather from birds. Listen to discover what they learned and how these animals’ networks operate “almost like Facebook.”
Current Event May 17, 2019
Opinions vary about the importance of speaking English in the U.S. Some people believe that it is unAmerican to speak languages other than English, while others believe that speaking multiple languages reflects the essence of what it means to be American. Listen to hear the opinion of one bilingual woman and her response to those with different perspectives. Then debate: Is encouraging people to speak only English unAmerican?
Language is complex, but children are natural language learners. Language itself is unique to humans, and many scientists want to know more about how humans are capable of learning language. Some theories suggest humans are born to be able to process and use language; however, a researcher studying language learning in children, thinks differently. He has been studying the sounds, grammar, vocabulary as well as eye movements and brain activity in children, and he has made some discoveries. Listen to learn more about language research that helps to explain why we have language and how we learn it.
Idioms are developed within a culture and are like a language of their own. They convey meaning that extends beyond the definition of individual words to express a fuller collective meaning. Many times, idioms are able to pack more meaning into fewer words because they directly translate a familiar sentiment. A dictionary of idioms is essential for communication in America. This story reveals the origin of idioms that allude to art, history, and American politics in the latest edition of “The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms”. Listen to hear how idioms reveal a snapshot of American society in different time periods.
Whether or not to use the “Oxford comma” is a big debate among grammar lovers, journalists, and English teachers. The punctuation mark appears at the end of a series, right before “and” or “or.” Recently, the Oxford comma came into the spotlight during a lawsuit about overtime pay. A close look at the law revealed that its punctuation, or lack thereof, made possible two entirely different interpretations. Listen to hear more about how one missing comma could cost a dairy company millions of dollars.
In the 17th century, people were determined to overcome communications barriers between the people of the world by creating a universal language. Sir Isaac Newton is known for discovering gravity, but he was also the creator of the “Newtonian” language. The language Newton created was never successful. The language of Esperanto was created in the 1960 but also never caught on. Listen to learn more about invented languages and why they never became universal.