‘We get a lot of binge listeners,’ says linguist Daniel Midgley in episode #221 of Talk the Talk. I’m one of them. When I first encountered Talk the Talk, a podcast about language and linguistics based in Australia, I listened to an episode here and there. Soon I came to like it so much that I wanted to listen to everything they had recorded.
So I downloaded all the mp3s and got stuck in, usually while walking. It took a while because there are, at the time of writing, 360+ episodes, more or less one a week since November 2010. Early episodes are short, 10–15 minutes, then they grow to 40–65 minutes. I had to binge to catch up, and I enjoyed every minute.
A podcast’s appeal hinges not just on its topics and ideas but also, critically, on its people. This is highly subjective, of course, but I’ve bailed on podcasts before because I found the presentation style too dour, too portentous, too breathlessly enthusiastic. No such problems with the Talk the Talk hosts, whose company is affable and edifying.
The team has changed a bit over the years. Daniel Midgley is a constant, driving the topics. Ben Ainslie, a teacher, plays straight man to Midgley’s linguistic expert (though ‘straight man’ does not fit Ainslie’s livewire personality). Kylie Sturgess brings a philosophical background but is currently on hiatus to focus on a PhD. Stepping in recently is Hedvig Skirgård, a linguist from Sweden studying at ANU.
Each episode’s main topic takes up just a portion, so don’t be put off if it’s not of immediate interest. Before it there’s linguistics in the news, and sometimes interviews with linguists. Episode #261, for example, is ostensibly about adjective order (Tolkien’s green great dragon), but first Midgley talks with Damian Blasi about research into non-arbitrary words: the fact that across the world’s languages, words for red tend to have an ‘r’ in them, etc.
360 episodes plus specials – 7.84 GB and counting – has produced a wealth of material on a huge variety of linguistic topics, as well as several running jokes (Daniel’s typography fetish, Ben’s fear of the robopocalypse) and running themes, many of these emerging from social-justice aspects of language use. Each episode concludes with a word of the week; in older episodes these now function as a kind of time capsule.
There are lots of listening options, and you can browse the full archive here. If you want to sample before plunging into a megabinge, you could try an episode on semantic illusions (#80), tongue twisters (#149), arbitrariness (#220), ‘ludlings’ (#228), Hinglish (#237), language learning (#260), the hotdog/sandwich conundrum (#287), or non-linguistic influences on language (#346). Follow your linguabliss.
I have no ulterior motive for this unqualified rave, but I should mention that I have a couple of cameos: in episode #199, on computer humour, resulting from my post on the syntactic explosion of nope; and in #325, a mailbag episode that discusses, among other things, flat adverbs, which I wrote about for Macmillan Dictionary.
Talk the Talk airs on RTRFM, a non-profit community radio station based in Perth. They’re all over social media: on Patreon (early episodes require a subscription), Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, even Mastodon. Happy listening.