Lingua Franca - Program podcast

ABC Radio National

Arts, Literature

Lingua Franca, presented by Maria Zijlstra, looks at all aspects of language: language old, modern, and even invented. Through interviews and prepared talks, the program features experts who analyse a single topic of interest to users and lovers of language. Examples of the sort of linguistic territory they traverse are: bi-lingual education, ebonics, the language of pornography, and the political use of words. Lingua Franca is published every Saturday.


This week's Lingua Franca was triggered by the words of the popsong, 'Unbreak my Heart'. The reknowned grammarian and former keyboard player in the soul group the Ram Jam Band, Geoff Pullum, uncovered the reversing 'un'-cryptotype while visiting Australia.

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A number of maps made in north-eastern Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries featured the name 'Ulimaroa' for the continent of Australia. How that came about is a wonderfully complex story that has now been unravelled, and in which a pivotal part is played by Polynesian pigs.

Elephant communication consists of a much wider repertoire than previously known, with significant vocalisations expressed at such low frequencies they are inaudible to the human ear.

For most of the history of Western civilisation, reading was not a silent activity. Indeed, according to Professor Paul Saenger, Curator of Rare Books at the Newberry Library, Chicago, all the evidence indicates that silent reading really only became possible around the 7th century AD. What stopped silent reading before that, he says, was the...