A reader writes to say “Lingthusiasm ( is a podcast that (this is all too uncommon) comes with transcripts.” From the homepage:

Lingthusiasm is a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics as a way of understanding the world around us. From languages around the world to our favourite linguistics memes, Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne bring you into a lively half hour conversation on the third Thursday of every month about the hidden linguistic patterns that you didn’t realize you were already making.

And yes, they have transcripts, from Episode 1: Speaking a single language won’t bring about world peace to (as of now) Episode 62: Cool things about scales and implicature (“But first, it’s our 5th anniversary! I can’t believe we’ve been making this show for five years”). A fine site; it was mentioned in a comment in 2018, but it definitely deserves its own post. Thanks, Pau!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    I though the first one was a bit disappointing. I must say their reasons for having nothing to do with Esperanto strike me as, if not frivolous exactly (the issue of sexism is perhaps something that the participants have more right to speak on than I do) but muddled, at any rate. I can think of much more important – and interesting – criticisms than that. And Esperanto -in is not a diminutive; Esperanto for “and” is not kai

    I also find Bliss’ position somewhat more understandable, at least, than they seem to. Their characterisation of him seems mean-spirited. And their illustrations about cultural diversity, while interesting enough and valid as far as they go (West Africans point with their lips) don’t strike me as knock-down arguments vitiating the whole concept of a potentially useful universal second language. They seem to be missing the point. The bit about emojis not being a “real language” is true enough, of course, but to deploy that as if that were itself an argument against things like Esperanto is either sloppy or disingenuous.

    More along those lines and I might have to take up Esperanto, God forbid.

  2. David Marjanović says

    The site used to have a comment feature. A while ago it just vanished.

    More along those lines and I might have to take up Esperanto, God forbid.

    The Ranto is still being updated.

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    Always fun …

    Hey: I’ve just noticed that YOU get a credit (unless there are more David Marjanovićeses [preciousss] out there likely to be writing to him …) Along with Christopher Culver.

  4. David Marjanović says

    Yup, that’s me, and I’m sure it’s the Christopher Culver we’re thinking of.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    Lingala is the obvious choice for a world interlingua. Nice simple phonotactics with no difficult segments; admirably regular morphology, despite including lots of regular verb-deriving suffixes like applicatives (just the sort of thing to placate disgruntled Esperantists, surely.) Verb tense/aspect is a bit intricate, but no worse than English or Spanish, and perfectly regular. Nice interlingua-ready SVO word order, no nasty noun cases …

    And millions of speakers already! All potential models for correct, natural speech!

    Admittedly it has tones, but only two, and no difficult tone sandhi or anything like that. I’m sure even Europeans could manage that with a little bit of effort.

  6. David Marjanović says

    like applicatives (just the sort of thing to placate disgruntled Esperantists, surely.)

    Just remind them that’s what German be- is (…basically).

  7. David Eddyshaw: An even better contender than Lingala as the most logical choice for world interlingua: Haitian Creole:

    1-Straightforward phonotactics and phoneme inventory,

    2-NO inflectional morphology whatsoever, and indeed no agreement phenomena of any kind (one advantage over Lingala),

    3-Very straightforward system of free morphemes marking tense + aspect (another advantage over Lingala),

    4-No tonal or indeed suprasegmental phonemic distinctions whatsoever (another advantage over Lingala, and over most (Atlantic) English-based pidgins and creoles. Hmm, most of the arguments in favor of Haitian Creole could apply to Tok Pisin: maybe we could have both as global languages).

    5-Like Lingala it has millions of native speakers (a sizeable percentage of whom live in the diaspora) and, finally,

    6-It also has an orthography that comes closer to a strictly phonemic representation of the language than the orthography of any other language I know.

    And as a special bonus, as the dominant vernacular language of the world’s first republic created by non-Europeans, I think nobody could have any ideological objection to Haitian Creole as a global lingua franca -believers in monarchs’ divine right to rule and white supremacist defenders of slavery would be upset, of course, but to my mind upsetting those two groups would actually be a VERY nice plus.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    Yes, I’ll concede that one.

    As a general principle (uniting both our proposals), it seems obvious that if you’re going to push for wide adoption of an interlanguage, it seems sensible to adopt an already-existing interlanguage which has already been (as it were) extensively road-tested.

  9. David Marjanović says

    Also, isolating languages are better picks than agglutinating ones. Speaking of which, my impression from reading that paper on Toisanese was that the only thing that’s hard about it, by global-average standards, is the intimidating tone system. I bet it also has classifiers; but other than that?

  10. David M: In answer to your question, its segmental phoneme inventory does seem to be of above-average complexity. If my own experience in a Mandarin course (a long time ago in a University far, far away…) is anything to go by, learning a tone language is made a LOT more difficult when, for a large number of syllables, you need to simultaneously focus upon tone AND various segments/segmental distinctions not present in your L1.

    And I am not sure I can agree with your claim that isolating languages are better than agglutinative ones: I would claim Turkish or Khalkha Mongolian would be a better global lingua franca (from the vantage point of ease of acquisition for as much of the human race as possible) than Mandarin.

  11. David Eddyshaw says

    learning a tone language is made a LOT more difficult when, for a large number of syllables, you need to simultaneously focus upon tone AND various segments/segmental distinctions not present in your L1

    I’m sure that’s right. Happily not a big issue in Kusaal, where the only really exotic segments from a SAE standpoint are /k͡p/ /g͡b/, neither of which ever struck me as particularly difficult either to make or perceive (and people will understand you fine even if you just cheat and say /kw/ /gw/.) Well, I suppose the glottal vowels, too. Easier than those fiddly sibilant and affricate distinctions in Mandarin, though.

    Still, Kusaal would probably not be a great choice for World Lingua Franca. Oh, well …

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    Haitian Kreyol is also already widely spoken in such major metropolises as Brooklyn, Miami, and Montreal, making it possible for the global elite to find competent native-speaker instructors without having to travel anyplace too exotic. Sorry Tok Pisin, you should have had a better-situated diaspora.

  13. Okay, what would then be the absolute worst choices for World Lingua Franca? My candidates: Old Irish, Cherokee, Navaho, Lithuanian and Georgian. Does anyone have five comparably unsuitable global lingua francas to propose?

  14. David Eddyshaw says

    Hard to improve on that list …

    Ik is pretty unsuitable (can’t find a good link, sorry. Take my word for it, though …)
    Several Chadic languages would be strong contenders.
    Some of the Grassfields Bantu languages have five tones (not counting contour tones …)
    Archi for the fifth … or perhaps Gaahmg, to stick with Africa …

    Ooh, I know! Kanuri! (or really any Saharan language …)

  15. David Marjanović says

    The contrast to Mandarin segmental phonology is exactly what struck me. The tones of Mandarin are probably easier than its consonants or its vowels for a lot of people.

    Does anyone have five comparably unsuitable global lingua francas to propose?

    Ubykh, Archi, Nivkh, Nǁng and Nunggubuyu.

  16. David Eddyshaw says
  17. Nǁng

    Wow. Now, that’s a language.

  18. David Marjanović says

    Wikipedia steadfastly refuses to tell me what’s so eldritch about any Saharan language, though the tone system of Zaghawa approaches Cantonese proportions. There’s a tiny Wikimedia incubator with tiny articles in Kanuri.

    Wikipedia is very clear on Dinka, however. *shudder*

  19. David Eddyshaw says

    what’s so eldritch about any Saharan language

    It’s the verb morphology. It’s a thing of beauty and terror.

  20. David Eddyshaw says

    FWIW, though, in Beria, nouns never change segmental form between singular and plural; however, there are ten regular declensions, distinct in tones alone. It is not predictable from the singular tones which declension a noun will belong to. (Of course, that’s pretty simple compared with DInka, or even with Maasai. At least you don’t have to worry about cases distinguished only by unpredictable tone changes. Or about cases distinguished only by whether the stem vowels have breathy voice or not, as in Dinka.)

  21. David Marjanović says

    Beauty and terror. I can see it.

    (And probably not hear it without a lot of practice.)

  22. As it happens, I was having a glass of wine and a bite to eat at a Croatian place yesterday evening and the tv over the bar was showing highlights of a soccer tournament that concluded last month in Cameroon, so I saw bits of Cape Verde losing to Senegal and then Guinea-Bissau losing to Egypt. Which made me wonder if Haitian Kreyol was the best candidate from the creolistic world for an Esperanto alternative when the Portuguese-lexifier creoles of those soccer-game losers were more venerable historically and indeed having a lexifier language other than English or French would seem to create a more level playing field (since the Luso-lexicon does not have the same sort of disproportionate existing global dominance).

    Researching the matter on my phone while finishing my wine, I could see some arguments against the Cape Verde option (lack of a single normative/standardized variety due to multiple islands, not quite as un-complex as the Haitian alternative perhaps due to “decreolization” due to the local diglossia dynamics putting most of its current speakers in closer contact with standard Portuguese than many Haitians are with standard French …) but I was not able to immediately find (before I finished my wine and settled my bill) the same degree of detail on the Guinea-Bissau option, so I’m still holding out for that as a candidate for World Lingua Franca.

  23. David Eddyshaw says

    The Mouton Grammar Library is supposed to be bringing out a grammar of Fa d’Ambô this year.
    It seems to have rather complicated interword sandhi, although this account doesn’t go into that:

    The bipartite negation marker is interesting, with a negative particle before the verb and a sentence-final negative particle along with it. Mooré and Kusaal do the same (though in Kusaal the situation is complicated by the fact that the sentence-final particle has no segmental form of its own, and signals its presence only by its effects on the word directly before it.)

  24. The bipartite negation marker is interesting, with a negative particle before the verb and a sentence-final negative particle along with it.

    Je ne comprends pas!

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    Ah: no, it’s a bit different from that: sentence-final. Thus

    Am na sa alusu pa am kumu-f.
    1SG NEG be rice for 1SG eat-NEG
    ‘I do not have rice (for me) to eat.’

    Similarly e.g. Mooré

    Mam ka ges biigã ye.
    1SG NEG child.the NEG
    “I haven’t looked at the child.”

    In Kusaal, at any rate, whole subordinate clauses precede a main-clause negative final particle:

    M daa pʋ nyɛ dau la ka o an na’aba.
    1SG TENSE NEG see man the and 3SG be chief.NEG.
    “I didn’t see the man as a chief (na’ab).”

  26. I still think Bahasa Indonesia is the best candidate for lingua franca. It evolved as a lingua franca, has fairly simple phonotactics, no tones, no grammatical gender, and has millions of fluent speakers who acquired it as a second language (which is also why English and arguably Mandarin are decent practical choices). Any language that is not normally acquired by outsiders as a second language will have difficulty achieving interlingua status, as native speakers often do not react all that positively to intruders trying to mimic them.

  27. David Eddyshaw says

    This is the beauty of Hausa: if you speak it badly, people still understand you, because they’re used to hearing people speak it badly (even if they don’t also speak it badly themselves.)

  28. The Fa d’Ambô sentence is interesting in that it exemplifies that, while creoles have a mostly European-origin lexicon (from Portuguese, in this instance), they combine this with an all-too-often utterly non-European grammar: thus, in

    Am na sa alusu pa am kumu-f.

    -all the words except the final negator (-f) have a Portuguese etymon: (am from “a mim”, na from “não”, sa from “são” (third person plural present indicative form of the copula), alusu from “arroz”, pa from “para” and finally kumu from “comer”. Now, a sentence such as *”A mim não são arroz para a mim comer (+ -f)” certainly corresponds to the Fa d’Ambô sentence, from a purely etymological point of view that is. But whereas each of the etyma is found in Portuguese, the sentence as a whole is radically un-Portuguese (un-Romance, indeed un-European): nothing like it is remotely possible in any existing or known variety of Portuguese.

  29. Lars Mathiesen says

    @de, that works for English too, at least in the UK. Pity the foreigner who meets a Cockney speaker.

  30. Dinka. How could I have missed that one?
    I assume the Meinhofs of yore would have concluded that only a master race could master a language like that. Leni Riefenstahl would have concurred. 😉

  31. David Eddyshaw says

    I gather that the Dinka themselves feel much the same way about it. It probably helps to be tall.

  32. I’m not sure this sentence really belongs in the lead paragraph of the Wikipedia article: “It is the only Nilotic language which has its own Wikipedia (”

  33. Allan from Iowa says

    Worst choices for a world lingua franca? I’m thinking of one with 17 to 24 vowel phonemes, dental fricatives that contrast with both labiodental fricatives and alveolar fricatives, and a standard orthography that was frozen before a major vowel shift.

  34. Lars Mathiesen says

    That’s cheating! We all know it’s the worst one, that’s why it needs to be replaced.

  35. David Eddyshaw says

    A kind person got me the MGL grammar of Fa d’Ambô for my birthday.

    I’d describe it as a very typical Guinea-zone West African language, though with an intriguing number of vague lookalikes with various Indo-European languages in the vocabulary … (but we all know how little importance should be attached to such chance resemblances by serious linguists.)

    [I expect that if I actually knew Portuguese, the effect would be less striking. But seriously, it makes Saramaccan look like standard English.]

    It’s an unequivocal tone language, too, which is interesting. (The description is confessedly very provisional, but that fact is clear enough, at any rate.)

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