Words, language, communication. It’s one of our favorite topics. Language can be beautiful, frightening, coarse, forceful, and arresting and, when under the employ of a master, it is like “wine upon the lips”, according to Virginia Woolf.

In the photograph that accompanies this entry is a rendering of the Tower of Babel. As the story goes, at some point in antiquity there was just one language, spoken and understood by all of mankind. Some academics say part of this story at least is true: there really was one language that gave birth to the rest of the tongues we have now. But from where did that language come? It’s a study that has fascinated linguists for years.

Here we bring you two linguists, both from the University of Chicago’s Department of Linguistics. Yaroslav Gorbachov is Assistant Professor of Slavic Linguistics and Salikoko Mufwene is a Distinguished Service Professor in Linguistics.

In this episode you will hear a number of languages including Basque, Finnish, Olde English, Romanian and–perhaps the father of all languages–Sanskrit.