What makes language so endlessly fascinating is that it intersects with every other topic you can think of. Learning more about language also means learning more about history, culture, neuroscience, physics, geography and human nature. This vast complexity also makes it all the more difficult to fully grasp. Fortunately, there are linguistics podcasts out there to help you do just that.
There are so many linguistics podcasts, in fact, it can be hard to know where to start. We thought we’d narrow it down. We chose eight of our favorite linguistics podcasts, each of which looks at language in a slightly different way. No matter what your specific interests, there’s a podcast here for you.
Admittedly, these shows do are more about English than any other language. If you’re looking for podcasts about learning a specific language, you can check out all of our resources here.
It would be impossible to make a list of the best linguistics podcasts without mentioning The Allusionist. It’s possibly the most popular podcast about language out there, and it’s gotten there by focusing on entertaining stories in which language plays a central role. Host Helen Zaltzman dives into the language of immigration, cookbooks, epitaphs, roller derby, the Olympics, generations and gender, among many, many other topics. The episode above is one of the best intros to the show: to celebrate The Allusionist‘s 100th episode, Zaltzman compiled 100 language-related facts that the show has unearthed.
Word Matters is the newest podcast on this list, but it’s already proven to be a show worth listening to. It certainly helps that it’s created by Merriam-Webster, one of the foremost authorities on (American) English. While Merriam-Webster may sound like a stuffy old institution, its podcast shows that this dictionary is on the cutting edge of linguistic debates. It’s already courted controversy with its very first episode, which was a defense of “irregardless.” Needless to say, this show isn’t for prescriptivists.
The Vocal Fries
As the subtitle says, The Vocal Fries is a podcast about linguistic discrimination that features a different language expert every episode. The name itself is a reference to a much-maligned linguistic feature: vocal fry, which is a sound that some people make at the end of a sentence that sounds kind of like bacon frying. Lest you think that’s a limiting topic, hosts Carrie and Megan show time after time how linguistic discrimination — whether it be based on gender, age, race, class or anything else — affects every person on this planet. The show also veers off into other areas of linguistics from time to time, like regional accents and language in space.
Hosted by acclaimed internet linguists Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne, Lingthusiasm is a monthly podcast that takes a scientific look at the biggest questions in language. Episodes range from the more technical (how does grammar capture the concept of time?) to the whimsical (where do smell words come from?). McCulloch and Gawne are two of the most enthusiastic science communicators today, and they provide an excellent entrypoint for anyone interested in the real mechanics of language.
The History of English Podcast
You might think that a podcast about the history of a language would have a finite lifespan, but The History of English Podcast has 140 hour-long episodes and is still going strong. The show’s longevity is largely thanks to host Kevin Stroud not shying away from tangential topics. Take, for example, an episode on Robin Hood, which isn’t necessary to the history of English but is certainly a part of the language’s cultural legacy. The show has been released in roughly chronological order, following English from its roots in Proto-Indo-European to (someday, presumably) the present.
Ever wondered why we “bite the dust”? Or maybe what it means to “steal someone’s thunder”? Bunny Trails co-hosts Dan Pugh and Shauna Harrison have too, and they explore the backstory behind our idioms in each episode of their show. Dan and Shauna are more word nerds than hardcore linguists, making this a good show for people who like language but don’t feel the need to understand all its technical minutiae.
Slate’s Lexicon Valley has been around for quite a while, and it’s drastically changed since its first episode. Originally co-hosted by linguist Mike Vuolo and journalist Bob Garfield, the show is now entirely run by linguist John McWhorter. Episodes vary widely, from rants about The Elements of Style to discussions of Chinese grammar. This show likely answers some of your most burning linguistic questions.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Babbel’s own linguistics podcast Multilinguish. In our two seasons so far, we’ve explored topics ranging from how to tackle your language anxiety to the sexiest accents in the world. Drawing from our pool of hundreds of language experts, we tackle verbal quandaries from all angles to see how language touches every aspect of our lives.