At The World, I switch between editing and reporting, broadcasting and podcasting, in-depth series and tweeting. Words connect what I do. On a good day they are intelligible.
Since 2008, I have been running The World's language desk and hosting a podcast called The World in Words. Before that, I reported on politics and culture, contributing to series on global obesity, the mental scars of Hiroshima and others.
London is my home town, Cambridge, MA, my adopted hometown. I have also lived in Alaska, California, Denmark and Moldova.
Because of my job, I am sometimes mistakenly taken to be some kind of linguistic expert— by people who have not been exposed to my spelling or grammar. Despite that, I speak reasonable Danish, poor Chinese and atrocious French. I can read menus and follow soccer commentary in a few other languages.
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To English speakers, the word, “peanut” isn’t especially funny. But “peanut” in Serbian, “kikiriki” is widely considered by Serbs to be the funniest word in their language. This raises the question of why people laugh at some words (“poop”) but not at others (“treadmill”). Does it come down to their meanings? Or are people responding to their sounds? Psycholinguist Chris Westbury set out to discover the answer.
Radio Haiti was shut down shortly after journalist Jean Dominique's assassination in 2000. Now, a trove of audio material has found new life with an archival collection at Duke University available in French, Haitian Creole and English.
Is it easier to sing than speak in a foreign language? Taiwan-born artist Wen-hao Tien has put that question to the test as part of a new exhibit about the immigrant experience in Boston, Massachusetts.
Some Americans, like Pardis Mahdavi, feel caught between two worlds. Her parents immigrated to the US from Iran, and she's never really felt completely at home in either country. So now, she's adopted a hyphenated identity.
If you think the war metaphor is being overused, you’re not alone. But why is this kind of rhetoric such a go-to for world leaders? And should we consider other metaphors?
Large-scale migration from Morocco to the Netherlands started in the 1960s under a guest worker program. But when Dutch officials realized that families from Morocco and elsewhere weren’t returning to their homelands, they tried to get them to learn Dutch. When that only partially worked, attitudes hardened.
Susanna Zaraysky, speaker of nine languages, seems to be able to pick up French or Portuguese almost overnight. In reality, it’s not so effortless — but is she cognitively predisposed to attaining fluency in so many languages? We follow her to an MIT lab where researchers put her through a series of tests.
In the West, we are used to sci-fi written by English-speakers who dream up English-speaking utopias and dystopias. Often in the final reel, humanity is saved by English-speaking heroes. So what should we expect from China's newly-thriving sci-fi scene?
When American Lynne Murphy says "sure" to her British husband, he thinks she means "not really."
Ira Lightman is a hero to some in the literary world, a villain to others.