When it comes to proper usage, the Grammar Police work overtime. Have you ever corrected another person’s grammar? How did that go over? Linguist Geoffrey Pullum has written widely on language and usage, from technical syntactic theory to a study called “The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax." He joins us for a conversation about the constant struggle for grammatical excellence (or even just improvement) and the right and wrong way to encourage better sentence structure.
Washington state is in the process of changing the language in state law to make it more gender neutral. Policemen are now police officers, for instance, and freshmen will become first-year students. Supporters say the change is needed because language matters. Critics say the changes are a waste of money. Ross Reynolds interviews University of Washington Sociolinguist Crispin Thurlow, and we take your phone calls.
Bring us your tired metaphors, overused phrases and words that summon an unpleasant visceral reaction. Ben Zimmer, language columnist for the Boston Globe, explains why these words and phrases bother us so much. Sometimes a word variant sounds odd to our ear, even if it’s correct, such as “pleaded” rather than “plead.” Other problems arise when words reveal disparities, such as a lack of an equivalent term for the opposite gender. And jargon can become offensive when it migrates from its original community to more common use in mainstream media or by different age groups.
Constructed languages, or "conlangs," are the made-up tongues that bring the worlds of "Avatar," "Lord of the Rings" and "Star Trek" to life. We talk with linguist David J. Peterson, creator of the Dothraki language for HBO's "Game of Thrones," about what goes into creating a language from scratch.
In “Ascent of the A-Word,” linguist and "Fresh Air" commentator Geoffrey Nunberg considers a word that has divided, offended and fascinated its users for the last 60 years. What is its essence? And what does it say about our values, impressions and relationships with other people? Nunberg joins us to discuss one of the culture’s most commonly hurled vulgarities and its place in society.