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It’s almost impossible to imagine a world without words. But this hour, we try to do just that.

We meet a woman who taught a 27-year-old man the first words of his life, hear a firsthand account of what it feels like to have the language center of your brain wiped out by a stroke, and retrace the birth of a brand new language 30 years ago.


Charles Fernyhough, Susan Schaller, Ann Senghas, James Shapiro, Elizabeth Spelke and Jill Bolte Taylor

Words that Change the World

Susan Schaller believes that the best idea she ever had in her life had to do with an isolated young man she met one day at a community college. He was 27-years-old at the time, and though he had been born deaf, no one had ever taught him to sign. ...

Comments [34]

A World Without Words

One morning, neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor woke up with a headache. A blood vessel then burst inside her left hemisphere, and silenced all the brain chatter in her head. She was left with no language. No memories. Just sensory intake, and an all-encompassing feeling of joy.

Comments [30]

New Words, New World

In the late 1970s, a new language was born. And Ann Senghas, Associate Professor of Psychology at Barnard, has spent the last 30 years helping to decode it. In 1978, 50 deaf children entered a newly formed school--a school in which the teachers (who didn't sign) taught in Spanish. No ...

Comments [19]

Comments [227]

Paul from CT

I love Radiolab. I learn so much from each show. I have to, however, object with your use of the word “kids” when referring to the grown deaf people in Nicaragua. It was an insensitive oversight mistake not usually made by you. They were not kids by the time they were tested. They were grown adults and I think Jad used the term “kids” a few times when referring to the adults. Small thing but words have big consequences and as your show reveals affects thoughts and how we think of things. Referring to adult people who are deaf as “kids” not good. I’m sure you can think of other situations where you would never do that (referring to a man as a boy, etc. ).
Despite that, I love listening to your show!! It is one of the best podcasts and I wouldn’t mind if you did one every day!!!

Oct. 05 2017 08:08 AM
Amy Schwartz from Exeter, NH

Wonderful show, thank you so much. As a Buddhist, I could not help wishing you had made a more explicit connection to meditation, given that the state Jill Bolte Taylor describes is the state the Buddha attained and which he afterward felt discouraged about trying to share. He thought he could not ever explain it in words. Interestingly, Buddhism gives the meditator a pathway to experience that state of pure joy without brain trauma. It is actually possible to move back and forth between a normal mind of words and the state of pure awareness without them. Only the most advanced meditators can move back and forth with ease and at their own whim. It helps explain why advanced meditators of all branches of Buddhism are so joyful and at ease. I do wish more people knew that this pathway is available to them! Thank you again though, it was a tremendously good show!

Sep. 26 2017 02:22 PM
Ulysses from Third Stone From Sol

This episode is one of the most amazing nuggets of information I have ever found in my life. I'm 42. People around my age are like statues of an ancient god astride over a harbor of time. We have one foot in the past and one on the shore of The Future.

Feeding the flames of my curiosity used to take initiative. I would haunt libraries, sliding out those long drawers filled with yellowed index cards. The smell was somehow wonderful. Then off to the section to find the book. Checked out more books then I could ever read in such a short backpack almost bursting the zipper as I peddled home, the weight of my ambition making each peddle a challenge, each yard a mission.

My aunt subscribed to Isaac Asimov's SF Magazine. I devoured every one. The mid to late 80s was a great time. Stories like Homefarring, Rachel In Love, The Passage of Night Trains, Think Like a Dinosaur...I often feel a subtle shift underfoot, as if the course of an underground river was suddenly shifted to pas beneath me--the shadow of Future Shock. So many of those stories got it so wrong, but some had portions (Mr. Boy) that are a little to close to the world of today to be comfortable. That was only 30 years ago, not really so long ago..but we didn't live with a computer in the home let alone a super computer in our pocket connected to the world. Yes I read about the coming Information Super Highway. But no hint of this rapid fire, highly mutating online always culture.

Things have changed so much that we don't live in cultural epochs define by decades. I grew up in the 80s, played in a much different San Francisco in the 90s.

But where are we now?

There really wasn't an Aughts. And dispite this decade almost being over have you ever heard anyone call this decade The Teens. Our cultural dilates time, the clockspeed is cooked and the zeitgeist dial is spun so fast we think of an era lasting weeks...when it used to last about 10 years.

I must return to books, to paper and ink. There is so much out there I confuse the noise for the signal. But I am glad I found this episode and grateful for radiolab for sharing it with all of us.

Be good to each other. The next few years may shape the next century. We don't know if he is a Gracchi, a Pulcher or even a Sulla. We just have to hope he isn't our Caesar. The Founders were a little to literal with their fan fiction Republic...fasces in the House, used on the front face of the armrests on the Lincoln Memorial? Their blind spot was so huge it only took their love letter to Cicero 200 years to become Us vs Them--Populares vs Optimates...Blues Vs Greens. Rome In Spirit, Rome In Fate. Hang in there, don't despair. In the end, the plebs will always prevail, even as they are ground underfoot.

Jun. 04 2017 11:35 PM
Mike from PDX

Another interesting avenue of pursuit, about how humans are hardwired for speech like Nicaraguan Sign Language, is feral people. They NEVER really get wordy vocabularies, and many never speak. Language must be ignited early, but once it is it can grow... and grow.

Nov. 21 2015 08:00 PM
Dave King from Denver, CO

Wonderful show, folks, Kudos! There are so many related areas to explore, here are some personal thoughts / words.

I wish there were more emphasis on notion of Symbols rather than Words per se. The pre-six children have Words like blue, baseball, carrot (a kind of "language") but they are missing Symbols like table (like Any table), ball (Any spherical bouncy thing), etc., like where a letter represents any number in algebra.

I wish there were inclusion of 2500 year old approaches to "switching off" Symbols like simple but industrial strength mindfulness practices. I've heard these are even edging out CBT in modern therapy studies. Give history its due, sure there is junk, but also gems the ignorance of which can raise scientific questions about a presentation.

Aren't words fun! ;)


Nov. 21 2015 05:25 PM
Kathy Matthes from San Diego, CA

You might enjoy this stories2music about words:

Nov. 21 2015 05:01 PM
Sarah from France

I am in the midst of learning a second language, so this podcast really resonated with me. One experience I've had for the first time is dreaming in an imagined language (gibberish). I dreamt that I was speaking fluent French, something which would be impossible for me in real life, but in the dream I had a complex conversation, so I must have been speaking a gibberish imitation of French. I've tried to think about how this was possible, and the only explanation I could think of is that I was carrying out the thoughts in my dream without language. Sometimes I catch myself thinking without language when I'm awake and it's like the thoughts are coming to me instantaneously, much faster than thinking with words. The only problem is they are fleeting and hard to remember. I think words help more with memory than with thinking itself.

Oct. 19 2015 01:20 PM
Ali from United States

The piano piece during the Il Defanzo story is called "23" by the Non Standard Institute.

Feb. 26 2015 04:27 AM
ashley from new yotk

Hello, im doing a school project and I have to answer the following questions:

Explain how the topic is introduced in the segment and the question that is being discussed.
• In what ways does this episode matter? What insight is provided?
• How is Ethos apparent in the episode? (ex. Experts discussing the topic)
• What other opinions to do have about the episode? (Conclusion)

any help?

GREAT video

Nov. 18 2014 03:22 PM
Beatrice Blake from Brattleboro, VT

For some fresh philosophical thinking about how words and language are part of our bodily living, and how we can think beyond the boundaries of what we can currently put into words, please enjoy these three short videos about Thinking at the Edge, developed by the philosopher/psychologist, Eugene Gendlin, and his wife, Mary Hendricks Gendlin.

An Introduction to TAE on Youtube

Find out more at or at

Nov. 06 2014 03:28 PM
A.M. Hillis from Guangzhou, China

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the transcript! I am an ESL teacher in South China, and yesterday I got into a discussion with a student about how to communicate/translate "比较虚的东西" ("relatively abstract ideas"). I knew he would love this podcast, but I wasn't sure if it would be above his listening comprehension level. Now we can have an 虚的 discussion about this 虚的 podcast! Lovely!

Oct. 22 2014 05:40 AM
Alex from New Jersey

Listening to this podcast I am struck with the parallels of words as symbols and math as symbols, which makes me wonder if there is any difference between math and language other than different uses.

Sep. 10 2014 03:29 PM
Lach from Straya

As JasonB points out the song/music from the 'Words that changed the world' segment at around 8 min 31 seconds is by a band called NSI called '23'. I found it hard to find so if you search for their album 'Plays Non Standards' you will easily find the music on lots of online stores.

Once again, search for 'NSI 23 Plays Non Standards'

Hope this helps!


Aug. 07 2014 02:33 AM

Aline, you are correct, "orgulus" (one spelling of the original Shakespeare) apparently comes from the Middle English "orgillous," which meant "proud." It's possible that Shakespeare was aware of the Middle English or French and simply spelled it in an unusual way. Keep in mind that spelling was not yet standardized. So it doesn't seem like this was really a word Shakespeare "invented."

Aug. 01 2014 01:49 AM
aline libassi from Mexico

I think, Prof Shapiro, that orgulus (spelling) may be proud or boastful. Orgulloso in Italian means proud.
Just a guess

Jul. 26 2014 10:51 AM
Ruben from FL

wow, i actually cried, moving subject matter, finally a show with subject MATTER

Jul. 23 2014 12:31 PM
Sarah DelliGatti from Pennsylvania USA

This is one of my greatest challenges: to turn off the internal dialogue and not be bothered by the incessant mental chattering of my brain. I believe this is one of the reasons that many mentally retarded people seem to be so joyful, lacking the boatloads of information that are stored and constantly dredged up in the minds of those of us who are lifelong learners. A downside of being a brainiac, possibly? Also, I find it incredibly difficult to pray or meditate because of the constant stream of information flooding my mind, everything from how my body feels to what I need to add to my grocery list. I believe one reason that the high of drugs and alcohol is so pleasant is because the mind is temporarily numbed and the lack of clarity is soothing.

Jul. 23 2014 11:02 AM
Michael from Bethany, OK

Listened to the last bit of "Words" and I couldn't help but connect it to the Ishmael series by Daniel Quinn. He writes of the Great Forgetting which separates ancient groups from agrarian cultures and I'm thinking now that the learning of a new language may be part of wiping out previous conditions and memories. A language that supplants an older communication form may have reconstructed new thinking patterns so the older form was like the "miming" which became outdated and maybe embarrassing to use. Just a thought.

As far as childhood memories go I knew what it was to tell a lie by hiding my mistakes and being disobedient at the age of 3 or 4. Luckily, I had forgiving parents. ....This was a great RadioLab episode.

Jul. 22 2014 11:33 PM

I still remember the moment I realized I could talk to myself. I was in kindergarten and I was on my way to school. I instantly told my mom who was driving. I thought I was the only person in the world at that time.

Jul. 22 2014 09:46 PM
John Glidden

First of all it would be great to get these shows written down.

I would love to quote the lines of interest with my comments

But with that said

a comment made that words can be made up some times by adding things like UN or RE and that William Shakespears introduced some new compond words of the time. My experience with Chinese is that a single chinese word often requires several words to explain its meanning. Consider that the language has been around for ever this language has built up many many of these words.
With that said i see a greatdeal of confusion between chinese people in what is written and seldom see a chinese person reading a news paper or a book.

is that the language is too complicated (the chinese say there language is RICH)

Jul. 22 2014 02:28 PM
Elizabeth from Putney, VT

Six for ever and ever? I can tell you what that's like! As a synesthetic, I am stuck in some VERY tight grooves about l's and left and yellow; and more about blue, blacks and greens, b's, bugs and beans, needles and peens.....
In other words..;.my associations are driving me crazy and keeping me comepleetely pre-occupied.

Jul. 22 2014 11:28 AM

"The art of meditation is a way of getting in touch with reality. The reason for it is that most civilized people are out of touch with reality, because they confuse the world as it is with the world as they think about it and talk about it and describe it. For, on the one hand, there is the real world and on the other a whole system of symbols about that world which we have in our minds. These are very useful symbols all civilization depends on them, but like all good things they have their disadvantages and the principle disadvantage is that we can confuse them with reality. Just as we confuse money with actual wealth. And our names about ourselves, our ideas of ourselves, our images of ourselves, with ourselves." - Alan Watts

Jul. 22 2014 10:11 AM
Theodore A Hoppe from Vermont

In response to whether a particular language changes the way we think:

There are many more.......

Jul. 20 2014 10:40 PM
Barbara Brodman

If language changes the way one thinks, does the kind of language affect thought processes? In other words, for instance, do Japanese speakers think differently from German speakers? Do Arabic speakers think differently than Latin based language speakers?
Certainly, there are concepts in aboriginal languages that cannot be translated into Western vocabularies.....

Jul. 20 2014 05:15 PM
Koko the Talking Ape from Denver

When will the written form become available? My beloved cousin is deaf, and a sign language teacher. This story would change his life, if only he could access it somehow.

Jul. 20 2014 03:49 PM

great show. thank you. I agree with so many of the comments here.
that word chemistry that James Shapiro describes is poetry. I've never heard it defined so well.

Jul. 20 2014 11:19 AM
Don Draper from San Jose, CA

Fascinating discussion of words and language. Words have slightly different meanings to different people, and translating from one language to another is approximate. Some words don't translate well at all, such as Gemuetlichkeit. Nevertheless, when I'm speaking German, I know how to use that word. Anybody who has studied a language as an adult is told, "don't translate, just speak". If I'm discussing politics, say, with a German, I'm not translating. If you sometimes speak to a friend in German and sometimes in English, later you may not remember which language you used but you will remember what was said.

What I wonder is, what is the nature of this pre-verbal conceptualization before I put it into language, say German or English. We all think in e.g. pictures, music, logical conceptions etc which don't need to be in words.
These concepts can be bundled together and linked to symbols called words which then serve as pointers back to the grouping of concepts. These conceptual groupings are different in different languages. When that little parrot in your head is speaking, you are using that language as as shorthand to process non-verbal concepts. Speed-reading classes teach you to read faster by side-stepping that parrot and just taking in the concepts and not "parroting" the words first and then processing the words into concepts which are then stored. Reading poetry is different because the choice of words, the rhyme, the alliteration etc are critical to the emotional impact of the poem.

I hope to hear from others on this.


Don Draper

Jul. 19 2014 05:00 PM
Judith from Baltimore

Fascinating. Whatever happened with Ildefonso?

Jul. 19 2014 03:35 PM
Shell from NJ

Of course something happens to children's brains at six. Christopher Robin knew that:

When I was One, I had just begun.
When I was Two, I was nearly new.
When I was Three, I was hardly me.
When I was Four, I was not much more.
When I was Five, I was just alive.
But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever,
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.

From Now We are Six, by A. A. Milne

Jul. 19 2014 12:46 PM
Betty Andersen from Sterling Heights, MI

This is a wonderful program as are all your programs. I always look forward to Radiolab. I am always amazed at how you come up with the various experts and other people who are able to describe experiences that relate to the topic. Keep up the good work. An aside: Shakespeare did not come up with the phrase "dead as a doornail. Dickens writes it in "A Christmas Carol" and a frenchman as well.

Jul. 18 2014 02:45 PM
Andrew from St.Catharines, Ontario, Canada

Are we limited by language, or are we to be thankful for language, for giving us the ability to link ideas? Can we be "free" thinkers even though we typically learn language in order to communicate?

Jul. 18 2014 10:08 AM
Jessie Henshaw from Way Uptown

Jad, darling, you're forgetting that there is a difference between verbal and non-verbal language;

between, verbal and non-verbal thinking, verbal and non-verbal creativity, verbal and non-verbal feeling, that all verbal content is underpinned by non-verbal feelings of great complexity, connections, details, passions. You'd be missing the whole difference between intuition and reason, between male logic and female tenderness and awareness of relationships no one will ever ever put into words. And so much more.

Jul. 17 2014 08:28 PM
O3 Ranger from NE Cali / NW Nevada

My. My. My. SO many words about words. John Bourgein From California: yes, Descartes DID say something to that effect, he said 'Cogico, ergo sum." Literally:"I think, therefore I am."

With one single sentence Universes, Galaxies, Suns, planets, matter and antimatter, plants, Lichen, and everything else unable to 'Think' first starts then cannot stop the uncorrectable downward spiral into oblivion. cannot stop, and we have the very SEED which started the least known, and

Ultimately THE most massive (and yet unknown) 'Mass Extinction' passed without even a whimper. It is at that EXACT moment when they simply stopped 'existing'. No thought, no existence, that simple. End of All Stories about anything which cannot think, since they had never, really, existed.

Enter The Ozone Ranger. Seeing immediately the fundamental flaw of Descartes before his first 'kegger' had even really started (approximately 1614 hours PDST, 1115 hours Zulu)he scrawled, using Spanish as his base language, 'Extreto, ergo sum' and corrected once and for all the fundamental flaw that had plagued philosophy since his death in 1650. Though in his defense, it is said (Wikipedia):

"He refused to accept the authority of previous
philosophers and also refused to accept the
obviousness of his own senses."

Proving once again that not only was he trying to make sense, he was also insane (or on some very good drugs considering the state of biochemistry in the mid 1600's)

As The Ozone Ranger pointed out during Doctoral Studies at 'THE' University of California at Davis (~1978), publishing incessantly without flagging for even an instant, in elevators, public restrooms, hallways, stairwells, sidewalks, locked exits, on the back of lecture hall seats, in text books left by inattentive students, movie theaters, on expeditions lead by the National Science Foundation to Alaska and environs, even on note cards slipped into well over 4, 000 reference books in each of the individual libraries (including bracketing any card catalog entry for Descartes the most correct and universal statement known. The now infamous repudiation to Descartes' Argument: Excreto, Ergo Sum. ("I excrete, therefore I am.") From this every axiom which flows becomes a matter affirming the "I AM" and 'The Universe=true' is reset to always return a form of positive (true) answer; existence, once blinked out for all eternity encompassing nearly EVERY form of everything, blinks back into existence, and 'The Force' is restored as a positive return whenever queried.

"Excreto, ergo, sum" -- The Truth of The Universe, as well as the Log Sought After Universal Constant is now known.

OK, class is excused, now go play, revel in, and enjoy your newly found World Peace and Contentment.

Jun. 24 2014 06:48 PM
JasonB from Venice, CA

The music track played during the Susan Schaller segment of this episode @ 8:53 is called "23" by Nsi. It's available on iTunes. A lot of people were wondering about it, including me. I emailed the folks at RadioLab because I was unable to Shazam it. They emailed me back very promptly with the name/artist. Here's their email, in case you have similar questions:

Apr. 28 2014 01:23 PM

I would love to see a follow up podcast in which you explore relational frame theory! :)

Apr. 23 2014 01:25 PM
nikk wong from seattle

Great show, but that buzzing noise at 30:00 made me want to turn it off. Horrible. Why would you include this?

Apr. 17 2014 11:38 PM

Is language the thing that disconnects us from everything else. Does labeling something else "something else" solidify our identity as definitely not that "something else", but rather, ourselves? When we start labeling, or giving an identity to something else, do we then, as consequence, give ourselves identity? Think about it... You are everything that is not you. Everything that is not you, is you.

Here's something I'm wondering. You are you, your skin is part of you... until it sheds and falls off. That skin that was you, after flaking off, is no longer you. It contains your genetic material, everything that makes you, you... But, who would every say that the skin that sluffed off their body, or the hair that got left behind at the barber shop, was still, "me"?

Has labeling, or putting words to things, disconnected us from everything else...

I think about everything that is not me, therefore I am?

Mar. 03 2014 07:08 PM
Michael McM from 13901

The lady surprised me by not saying she researched Helen Keller. She was a deaf and blind and could only smell and feel. Yet she learned sign done against her hand and became engaged in language.

The color discussion makes me think they may have missed the perception/ empathy experiments done with children, chimpanzees, and dogs. An experiment was set and being the chimp is our genetic relative up to 98% of the same DNA. They were included in the experiment. A treat is placed under a cup that matches another side by side. The test subject was shown where the treat is placed. The child picks the right cup about every time. The dog succeeded most of the time. The chimp failed to pick the cup and seemed set to pick either cup. They sighted empathy to explain the results. Domesticated dogs seem to try to follow and or read what the human does.

Dec. 14 2013 10:03 PM
Aaron Traynor

Praise GOD ALMIGHTY!!!!!

Jun. 11 2013 01:00 PM
Aaron Traynor

This is so familiar. My Brother and I can not hear because of early tubes in our ears.

We still talk with our hands. People thing it is wierd.

Jun. 11 2013 12:51 PM
Max Scharnberg from Stockholm, Sweden

There are more than one phenomenon that is related to the central point of this article. We know that there have been mental patients who have not spoken a word for 10-20 years. Behaviour therapy has made them speak, though generally with a limited vocabulary. - The risk of mistakes is important, even for skilled professionals. Around 1950 a Danish case was discovered of a man aged 37, who had lived his life confined to a mental hospital because he was supposed to be seriously mentally retarded. At 37 it was discovered that he was merely deaf.

Jun. 06 2013 04:08 PM
Marilyn Mitchell from California

Your program on Words was clearly developed by people that are not focused on visual information. I am an artist and I often think visually, not in words, and I am not alone. Many people have visual thoughts - including other artists, dancers and mathematicians. Most people dream in images which are not necessarily narrated by one's inner language.

I'm not sure if being dyslexic also makes thinking in ways outside of language easier, though I am dyslexic, too. Doing a program on dyslexia would be very interesting.

May. 23 2013 12:50 AM
S.D. row from East Coast, USA

Interesting program! I listened to first half but had to go to bed. And I was thinking, I liked the way they were trying to get at what are words for. Do we really need words? But I felt that it didn't go as deep as I would have liked. But the thing I was thinking was, this way we put labels on things, it seems to me that this is like the Adam & Eve story, where Eve eats the apple from the tree of knowledge. By creating labels for things, we break our oneness with nature down. We loose that connection. And that is the sin of science. And then today when I went to hear the 2nd half of the show, it seemed this woman who had the stroke, was confirming what I had thought. Words separate us from that bliss of connectedness, that we loose as we grow up and are taught words and language. And this loss of connection is what is in fact now destroying the world and us with it. So are words really a good thing? But then that 27-year old guy who had not known language (Ildefonso), I was kind of tearing up as others when hearing about his discovery of language, like that scene from the movie "Miracle Worker". And he said when he tried to remember what it was like before, it was like a "darkness"? So that doesn't fit.

Isn't this what the Zen masters are telling us, empty our minds of words and become one with the universe? Isn't Laurie Anderson correct when she says "Language is a virus (from outer space)", although I think she was just quoting William Burroughs.

So this program is pretty much great, hunky-dory, except for Ildefonso who seems to think not having language is not a cool thing. But then it might be because I have this sort of antagonism against words because I have never been very good at reading which might have something to do with the accident I had when I was 6 years old while riding my bike and this car I was not expected came from the left and I ended up in a coma for 3 days (I don't know if the car was blue or not).

May. 22 2013 08:42 PM
Future Research from San Jose, CA

From the story of the rat and child in the white walled rectangle: It seems to me, that this could be a way to categorize the linguistic intelligence of a variety of animal types. For example, the same experiment on a group of apes, elephants, horses, etc. could give a clue into the mental power of their language processing center, and 'rank' their intelligence. Or for that matter, birds and potentially even marine creatures like dolphins could be tested in a similar way.

Maybe this has already been done? If so, I would be really curious to see the results.

Also, great show.

May. 22 2013 01:52 AM
Carl from Salt Lake City

This seems like part of the answer to Autism! If you read Temple Grandin, she talks about remembering in pictures. Maybe for those with autism, what's missing is being able to connect to language, like the man with no words.

May. 19 2013 08:28 PM
Cranky Otter

This thread seems like a good time to bring up Cued Speech. It's not sign language, but a visual way to show the syllables of spoken language visually. No sound needed, just one hand and mouth movements.

But the deaf kids at school making their own language is pretty awesome.

May. 19 2013 04:48 PM
Andrew Campbell from WNYC-NY

I noticed with facination, after a class in the history of literature, specifically, 'The Epic of Gilgamesh'. I realized it was facinating, not because it was 'literature' (words, etc.) but that here was a guy from 5000 years ago telling me just how his life was going!

At that same time I realized that in Mathematics, two would be two, and any other part of math would still exist whether we know it or calculated it or not. In English (language) we wouldn't have the and we wouldn't have the . You would pain, hunger, your mate, without words but you couldn't do anything with it and you wouldn't call it 'an idea.'

May. 18 2013 04:29 PM
Sarah B

My kids often listen to RadioLab (when the topic is family friendly ;) ) along with my husband or I because they have no choice in the car. Today, though, all 3 chose to stay in the car and listen until the radio in the house was turned on and then they sat on the floor in front of the radio and listened to the rest of the show. They are only 5, 7, & 9 years old. Thank you.

May. 18 2013 04:15 PM
Andrew Campbell from WNYC-NY

Tim from California:
I forgot just what they said in the piece but my feeling is, all the arts work this way--you know the meaning of things (90% unconsciously) when your brain can work on the thought/image/concept/rhythm... by the various representations of the experience in the brain.

May. 18 2013 04:00 PM
Gretchen from Minnesota

How wonderful to hear a person with Aneurysms explain how they see the world! I have said many times that I may not recognize you by how you look but how you present yourself to the world. I know you through your presentation to the world! I can't describe you in words about your physical properties.

May. 18 2013 03:50 PM
Andrew Campbell from WNYC-NY

Wil Davis: I know what you mean about the, "Oh, Wow!" comments, but in this case, I don't find them disruptive--they give a chance for the concept to settle in.

May. 18 2013 03:42 PM
Tim from California

Here's an example of thought without the use of words: recalling or creating a melody.

May. 17 2013 04:15 PM
Heaven from Turlock, CA

I am graduating as an English major next week, and today's show was the perfect episode because it was all about words! Thanks for the awesome show!

May. 17 2013 12:59 PM
Wil Davis from Nausea, New Hampster

Yet another brilliant idea totally trashed by the overuse of effects and interruptions, and "Oh! Wow!" interjections, in short great on ideas, pretty low on production values, about the same as usual! - Wil Davis

May. 17 2013 12:21 PM
Jordan Michels from Eugene, OR

Who is Paul Brachs (sp.)? Books?

May. 17 2013 03:20 AM
Chris Coelho from Turlock, CA

Hey guys,Sir Robert, young Jad, love your show but this was "The One". If you can keep up with my analogy hear and here what I have to say. If you can see thru the veil of my words, you might just respond back to me.

If life were an egg, I heard this show and it woke me up and just now have I started pecking the shell trying to get out.

Apr. 18 2013 01:29 PM
Rekha from New York

Such a brilliant episode. Language is so important and integral to the ideas we have, and this episode just really nailed it.

Apr. 14 2013 01:39 PM

Thank you, I've just been searching for info approximately this topic for ages and yours is the greatest I've discovered so far.
However, what concerning the conclusion? Are you sure concerning the supply?

Mar. 07 2013 07:12 AM
Al from someware

The story of the woman who had a stroke reminds me of Toltec wisdom

Feb. 25 2013 06:20 AM
Drea from Florida

WOW. This blew my mind! If only you guys had a show on TV! So glad my professor told us to listen to this podcast!

Jan. 10 2013 11:40 AM
Bob from bob land

That sound you played at 29:15 was ridicules. Don't do that to people! Ouch lol

Jan. 01 2013 11:20 PM
Left of the Blue Wall from DC

I was wondering: There are many voices of children (I assume female) whose cadence and nuance is a little to clean and perfectly matched to quotes from guests. Is there a voice actor doing the overlayed childrens' voices for scripted dialog?

Nov. 26 2012 06:00 PM
Jason from Vancouver, Canada

I saw this invention and thought back immediately to this great episode.

Nov. 04 2012 10:27 PM
Samhitha from NJ

This story about Ildefonso is really powerful. I just wish you hadn't put in those interrupting children's voices. But I love Radiolab and we have all been exposed to all kinds of fascinating things because of you guys. Thank you so much for that.

Oct. 11 2012 11:35 PM

This stuff is weird, creepy, and uncomfortable. I was forced to listen for a class. How odd.

Sep. 19 2012 08:19 PM
Elan Goldman from Oregon House, CA

Hi, I have a question regarding a musical piece played during this episode. It starts at approximately 9:17 and goes til around 11:00. It makes me shiver every time I hear it. Thanks

Sep. 09 2012 09:26 PM
Alexandra Harris from Boulder

Language is key to being an individual. Without Language, us as humans would have no way to process our thoughts, nor communicate and interact with one another. Without language our world would lack a sense of individualism. You can tell from all of the stories mentioned in this podcast how language has such a huge effect on us humans. From the older, Indian man that had no sense of language to a woman who had a stroke that greatly affected her mind, deleting all her knowledge of language. I was so touched by the story of the Indian man for multiple reasons. It really made me take a step back and really realize how important language is and how fortunate I am to be able to speak language without any problems. It also made me so happy to know that we still have people I our world who take time out of their day to help others and it makes me want to do the same when I am older. However, through the last story I realized how quickly this can all be taken away from us. Without any warnings a women had all her knowledge of language taken away from her in a matter of minutes. Through all of this, I learned just how important language is and how many things is does for us humans, and I now appreciate it so much more and no longer take it for granted because I know how amazing it is and just how quickly we can lose it.

Sep. 03 2012 11:36 PM
blair bates Boulder, CU

Blair Bates

Everyone has different ways of showing their sense of self or how they define their selves and language being a hug part of this. There are multiple ways to which people do this like actions, writing, or even dance, but language gives actual word and definition to how we express our sense of self. By losing language one could very well lose the ability to define ones self to a high degree. The biggest example of this is the part (min 9) where the deft student realizes that everything has a name. Right there that shows a perfect example to how language defines us with out language we wouldn’t have names to individualize us from one another. Our names are our identities, essentially if we are wordless we couldn’t call or define each other we would have no identity in life and never be an individual. “Language allows us to describe information to each other.” (Min 18) Language gives us the ability to not only name ourselves but anything and everything. Language is the ability to describe and define something to another person. Being able to describe is being able to know and describe yourself so then by that we have a sense of self.

Aug. 31 2012 07:00 PM

I speak two languages fluently and when I learned my second language and lived in the new country, after a short while you start thinking and dreaming in that language and after a longer while your thinking is also different and more similar as the new culture.
Then when you talk again to a family member of the old culture and language it takes a few minutes to think and talk fluently like the old self again.
And the more years you stay in the new culture, the harder it becomes to think and talk in the old language and culture again.
And eventually you translate your new thoughts into the old language, just like in the beginning when you learn the new language and you just translate.
That's why it sounds so weird, apart from the accent, and sometimes nonsensical, when you speak in a new language

Also I believe animals and my dogs certainly do think and dream, but just simpler and more abstract and more in the moment.
One of the most beautiful aspects about them is that they don't have our concept of aging or dying and death. They just live completely inside and for every moment and the now.

Human's thinking can liberate but just the same also imprison our mind and soul.

Music is my most favorite aspect about being alive, after experiencing nature and animals.
It's all about feelings and abstract associations and words and thoughts can be put aside in an instance.

Apr. 26 2012 02:53 PM
Vernon Keeve III from Oakland

This episode completely changed my life. I listened to if after I read Saussure. And, this in conjunction with theory opened my eyes to new thought. Thank you.

Jan. 03 2012 10:50 PM

im so ambivalent about that guy's remark about thoughts & particularly meta thinking are based entirely in words... the woman offered a counter example with music as a somewhat complex thought process without language... however, how deep and abstractly can someone "read" the ideas/emotions in music without an initial LANGUAGE to describe and introduce those abstract concepts into the person's mind the first place? for example: a sunset might make me feel romantic, cheesy, relaxed and might make me remember someone, all at once, very complex and abstract ideas....but the sunset is obviously not intrinsically communicating this. this is my own construct (rooted perhaps entirely in language) that the sunset happens to trigger. how much is the inner message in music intrinsic and how much is just the trigger?

Dec. 09 2011 12:57 AM
john from florida baby

Hey Just finished listening to Jill... Have you guys ever meditated before or done any analysis of eastern thought on here? People's mind chatter is based off language and this is ultimately how people identify themselves, it's the story they make up about themselves. One thing you can do which is interesting is stare at a leaf on the groud and repeat the word leaf, sooner of later the meaning of the work melts away and your mind stops associating the sound leaf with what it thinks a leaf is... the mind kind of gets put on pause for a second. So by constantly being in a state of chatter, the people identify with thoughts and words and constructions of who we think we are rather than experiencing the now... presence. With each person's story comes expectations and things they "should" be doing in life - conventions or norms or whatever. This feeds the idea of the incomplete self, that I'm not good enough like i am and i need more knowledge, money, power, the perfect mate, a new car, to travel to India to have a spiritual awakening... whatever it is that you need to make you whole. the truth is that, well there is no truth but if there were it would be that the self is all inside each person already. so all these people out there, unhappy with themselves are searching for something to make them whole - that's why so many relationships break up as soon as the partner doesn't meet expectations. it also relates to how lots of people, like politicians, are unable to accept responsibility. So, when Jill's left brain was shut down she wasn't judging, she wasn't attached and she wasn't resisting the present moment - she was experiencing the sunshine and that is why she described it with words like peace and joy. One of the most interesting parts of what she said was the bit about when she was in a state of peace she felt a connection to everything. This is the divine energy of the universe whose existence is by nature infinite and pure. A blade of grass doesn't think about growing, it just grows... However - i think its important to emphasize that first, its possible to get to this state one your own (without having a stroke) and second, it's not an either or scenario - its possible to switch back and forth, it's not as if one can't be effective in this world when they are constantly experiencing the moment - on the contrary. things are much more fun that way.... have a nice one.

Dec. 02 2011 03:40 PM
David Morimoto from Quincy MA

our Selves, Ourselves
Apart, and a Part
with every Thing, of Everything
from one Another, an Other
one Self

Nov. 23 2011 06:25 PM
John Bourgein from california

I think it was Descartes who said:

"I think therefore I was" in other words (no pun intended) words are only cue cards for all the experiences each individual has relating to the word being used - and those experiences (for most of us anyway) are from the past.

Nov. 18 2011 06:34 PM
Aaron from Boston, MA

Short of the right words to describe this, I'll call this episode beautiful. There were several times when I noticed my eyes tearing. I'm not sure why.

It reminds me of a taste. China and Asia had a term called "umami," which is kind of like the taste of "savoriness." However, I didn't learn that word until I became a cook in a French kitchen with a fellow and more learned cook who brought this term to me. Suddenly, I had this other way of TASTING that seemed to arise out of nowhere, but which could now be conceived.


Nov. 17 2011 12:12 PM
Matt Clark from Amherst, MA

The BEST episode so far. Amazing. "Words, words, words."

Nov. 07 2011 01:24 PM
Luke from Adelaide

For Alec,

there was an article on which described 'metalese' - the language of thought. The writer and his sister were both fluently multi-lingual, and although he could recount the conversations they had, he couldn't recount what language they were in. From there, he builds on to propose that we at first think in metalese, then that 'thought' language is converted to English, Arabic, Dutch, what have you.

Nov. 04 2011 08:55 AM

This is one of the best episodes so far--great scoring, great tone and storytelling, and deep ideas.

Oct. 13 2011 03:50 AM
Taylor Burns from UofL

The Radiolab entitled, Words, was a discussion about the impact of language. This discussion was closely related to natural science in reverence to the function of the brain in both humans and animals (the comparison of a rat and an infant’s thought process). Different instances were conversed where language was not present, one which was about a man who was born deaf and lived 27 years without a language. The impact of being taught language (signs “everything has a name”) was life changing for him. Saying so, this demonstrated how words have a way with how we as humans perceive the world around us.
As children (ages 3-5) we weren’t able to express what we experienced, therefore as adults we cannot express, let alone recall, what we experienced during those years of our lives. This demonstrates how the human brain indeed changes over periods of our lives, specifically the younger years. As time progresses we are then able to piece together various information into one single thought or phrase. In the Radiolab Words, connects language with the natural science of how humans go about their everyday lives.

Aug. 30 2011 10:46 PM
Taylor Burns from UofL

The Radiolab entitled, Words, was a discussion about the impact of language. This discussion was closely related to natural science in reverence to the function of the brain in both humans and animals (the comparison of a rat and an infant’s thought process). Different instances were conversed where language was not present, one which was about a man who was born deaf and lived 27 years without a language. The impact of being taught language (signs “everything has a name”) was life changing for him. Saying so, this demonstrated how words have a way with how we as humans perceive the world around us.
As children (ages 3-5) we weren’t able to express what we experienced, therefore as adults we cannot express, let alone recall, what we experienced during those years of our lives. This demonstrates how the human brain indeed changes over periods of our lives, specifically the younger years. As time progresses we are then able to piece together various information into one single thought or phrase. In the Radiolab Words, connects language with the natural science of how humans go about their everyday lives.

Aug. 30 2011 10:43 PM
arial from Italy

are you guys going to come back by any chance? it's been awhile since the last transmission, would be nice to hear something new from you again:)

Aug. 29 2011 05:35 PM

I'm listening on the RadioLab player, and thinking it would be really, really helpful to know how long each piece is. I don't see a time anywhere except how much time has elasped so far.

Aug. 18 2011 06:29 PM
Anthony from Los Angeles

I've been looking for that same song. Its Beautiful. please let me know if you find it.

Aug. 11 2011 02:09 PM
Gemma from Sydney, Australia

I would love to know the piece of music that is playing during Susan Schaller's story- Begins at 8.50 and finishes up at about 10.30. It's a simple piano piece- but there's something about it that sees me listening to that podcast again and again just to hear it. Sometimes I tear up! It's just incredibly beautiful.

I'm getting a little bit desperate! (I'm almost to the point of going to a piano and trying to figure out the notes and record it myself)

Does anybody out there know what it is?

I've been searching for months and months.

Jul. 17 2011 09:23 AM

The way that they discuss the loss of "I" in this episode is sort of disconcerting. They consider it a bad thing when everything that Jill discussed is basically a description of enlightenment, and it seems that they look down on it, like "You're disconnected from words? From concepts? From feeling seperate from all the things around you? That sounds like being stranded." I don't know, it seems like ignorance towards the way that we could be thinking (with effort, of course): free of all of these constructed concepts.

Jul. 10 2011 06:07 PM
Kevin from LV, NJ

Now we need a Radio Lab Program to explore and examine meditation and how some of us try to reach that place, that void with the absence of thought and words to can that clarity to achieve that oneness with the our surroundings our connectivity to every thing around us. And were some of us do seem to reach that place.

Jul. 09 2011 08:40 AM
Kevin from Oregon

Listening to Jill's description - the absence of that inner voice in her mind, and a feeling of simply "being" during her stroke, struck an immediate question with me. Is this the same state that is induced and reached during deep meditation? I have never been there, but from the descriptions I have read there appears to be strong similarities. Investigating the parallels between the two, both from an experience and physical perspective could almost be a show in itself!

Jun. 24 2011 02:25 PM
Hildemar Dasce

You taught me language, and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you,
For learning me your language!
Caliban, scene ii
The Tempest

May. 31 2011 03:25 AM
mariana from MEXICO

I like all of radiolab work. Love many pieces. This one made me cry. It was the first I heard. Now I cant hear anything else. I find other work lacking of the quality yours always has and sometimes (often) overtakes past parameters.

May. 19 2011 01:09 AM

I wish the video and visual materials were still here.

I listened and the streaming feed talked about supplementary video and pictures. But they are no longer here. Ah, well!

Apr. 30 2011 03:51 PM
ovid uman from Paris, France

thank you!

Apr. 29 2011 06:19 PM

'Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe...

: )

Feb. 24 2011 01:33 PM
Joe Tomko from Na Kae, Nakohn Pranohm, Thailand

I am an English teacher in Thailand, trying to learn Thai. I am wondering how the process of "islanded" thouhgts come together affects the "thinking of a student trying to learn a foriegn languge, myself learning Thai and my students learning English. I know I have to "think" as a Thai person would inorder to use the Thai language. Is English the same way, and will my students never quitw get it until they are surrounded by or living in a region with English speaking lifestyles? So many question. Awesome show!

Feb. 15 2011 12:32 AM
Bernard Farrell from Massachusetts, USA

I loved the choral music in the final segment of this show. I do wish you'd give details of the music used in the podcast listing or at the end of the show. Can anyone tell me what group is performing here?

Feb. 11 2011 08:24 AM
Emma from Sydney

This was indeed the best Radiolab show I've heard so far. It wins the prizes.

It's interesting what one commenter said about this being the kind of show that radio listeners would relate to, as verbal/auditory kind of learners :) I listen constantly to podcasts (many kinds) and it's made me think about associative connections between auditory and spatial/visual information. My not very high-tech system means I am always bouncing the shows between devices, and trying to find my place in shows I've part-listened to. When searching through the audio, I know I'm almost at the right spot because that phrase I heard when I was walking up the stairs to my door, which would be when I turned my ipod off. If it's too early in the show, I know no; that's about 100m away from where I'm up to because I heard that part when I walked past the bus stop. It surprises me how strong my association can be between some phrase I've heard, and my visual impression of the exact physical location I was in at the time I heard it.

Listeners not from Australia may not know about Natasha Mitchell's weekly show on ABC Radio National, All In The Mind. It's very different in style and tone to RL but also often rocks my mental boat. Tis all about the brain.

Feb. 07 2011 06:01 PM
Tom Meegan from Newbury, NH

Remember the prairie dogs with language in "Wild Talk?' What if we did the "rats in the room with the blue wall" experiment with prairie dogs instead? Since there is evidence that prairie dogs DO have language, the result would shed light on the conclusions of the rat experiment.


Tom M

Feb. 07 2011 10:39 AM
John Peiffer from PDX

It was really interesting to hear about the perspective of those who progressed from having no words or language to reaching a point where their thoughts paralleled their lanugage development. I grew up speaking four languages. With two of them - Italian and English - I became fully billingual achieving a level of proficiency to the point of being able to perform simultaneous translation just like the interpreters do at the U.N. However, I later experienced something that has convinced me that humans are capable of thought processes based on a natural "internal" conceptual language that goes beyond translation from one spoken or written language to another. In my late adolescence I noticed that I would often surprise myself by remembering the dialog from a movie or a passage from a book in one language that I had experienced in the other. At times I would have no recollection of what language I had actually read the book from. This led me to ask a number of my polyglot friends what sort of experiences they had but despite their bilingual capabilities they all stated that they spoke or thought in one language at a time. There was a noticeable difference in speed when this absence of translation occurred. It felt as though I was thinking faster than the normal rate of speech that was the norm for my thoughts as if I were "talking" inside my head. I've often wondered if this different "rate of speech/thought" is similar to the experiences of people who tend to think in terms of mental pictures instead of words as some people with autism have reported.

Jan. 26 2011 02:02 AM

Just read all the comments!
Thanks for suggestions of further programs to follow up (see mine).
I have had to train myself to use words to think. I used to think in pictures. I was very creative combining two disparate ideas in my head instantly in a picture. I would do this hundreds of times a day so few could keep up with me. I was amazed that some people only ever have one good idea in alifetime.
BUT I became frustrated and angry that people were so dumb as not to see the/my connections immediately. They of course thought I was a raving fool.
My English Teacher wife taught me how to take the long, tedious, boring road of filling in all the connections in order to explain my ideas to others. (otherwise I could have never even got a degree.-I am also a bit dyslexic/bad-speller having never had a big interest in words) She had to show me all the time where I had left out -the obvious-to me- connections/logic-in an essay.
Now I don't know where I am--certainly a lot less creative.. Memorizing/remembering something is much easier if I can "see" it in my head.

Jan. 22 2011 01:56 PM
Michael Bailes from Sydney

Thankyou for a surpurb program (recently aired on Austraian Science show.
What atrap language is!
intesting that Brazillian Sharmans a take a root/herb to enable them to let the plants tell them their healing properties.

You might also be interested in how Aboriginal Australians language informs/creates/is/explains their view of country
Listen Here:-

Jan. 22 2011 01:15 PM
zenji from Sydney, Australia

Hehe i add my voice to those commentors who say that Jill Bolte Taylor's experience is similar to a meditation experience sought by Buddhists and others.

The temporary lack of the concept-mind:

- reveals that our sense of having 'a self' with particular traits (aside from pure awareness) largely arises as our thoughts, and is based on observing our thoughtts

- reveals the pristine 'equal purity' of all things as 'just themselves' without labels

and is a luscious experience!

Jan. 17 2011 01:06 PM
Linda from Melbourne, Australia

RadioLab - your production techniques are just brilliant. The music, sound effects and buzz-buzz-buzz of conversation keeps up the listener interest. I've been riveted to all this on Australia's Radio National for almost an hour. Keep up the good work.

Jan. 14 2011 08:54 PM
mal from miami

exciting show. but please lose the extraneous and damn annoying music and sound effects

Jan. 14 2011 05:46 PM
Joëlle from Gatineau, Québec

Great, great show! Thank you guys for all the work you do; your episodes are inspiring, educational, interesting, etc. Keep 'em coming!!

Au plaisir d'entendre le prochain Podcast!

Jan. 02 2011 02:14 PM

My child, who is not quite 4 years old, also has no problem with the blue wall test or any variation. Being that far away from 6 years old, I can't even chalk that up to being gifted. I think your guest is just wrong. I love Radio Lab! Keep up the great work!

Dec. 19 2010 09:17 AM

@Jack from Blacksburg:

Brilliant comment. This is so great to hear from someone who has a form of autism, as it has been long known they there is a different thought pattern.

Sounds like you may have provided the missing link as to what it might have been like pre-verbal times. The guest on the show implied they don't "think" as we know it, prior to age 6 or 7, which may be true meaning we don't think in verbal form. Seems like once the conceptualizations of verbalization sink in something happens and we literally think differently.

Sounds like what you might be saying is, prior to the verbal set it, it is much more image based and tactile, but once the verbal aspect has set in fully, there is an immutable irreversible cohesion of two though types.

Super interesting. It would be great to get an episode with a person with autism.

Dec. 03 2010 02:08 PM
Jack from Blacksburg

This was fascinating to me, but also very disturbing - I never realized other people were so reliant on words, to the point that they would assume the non-verbal simply couldn't think without them. It's almost offensive.

I started talking when I was six (I have high-functioning autism). I never had trouble thinking before then - and I certainly have vivid memories of that "pre-verbal" time. I would also say I think similarly to the way I did before that time. Unless I am conversing - in which case I have to translate what I am thinking - I never think using words. It is mostly visual and tactile. I do not think I have a deficit because of this specifically; to the contrary, I find I have a much better memory than most people, perhaps because everything has been encoded visually and I do not have the effect of verbal overshadowing.

It was a fascinating podcast, as always. Keep up the good work.

Nov. 29 2010 03:58 PM
Geoff from Lowell, MA

Okay, so Jill Bolte Taylor's LEFT brain went offline and she didn't know her name or who she was or have memories, etc. All she experienced was "la la land".

In an earlier episode (maybe the "Who Am I?" episode?) it was said that you lose your sense of self when the RIGHT hemisphere is put to sleep.

I think there needs to be some clarification on this.

Nov. 28 2010 06:53 PM
Essence from Atlanta, Ga

This program is amazing!!!! I am majoring in Athropology, and this is amazing!!! This is what I want to do!

Nov. 22 2010 07:44 PM

Wonderful podcast! Fascinating, and I'm sure one could build a whole series of podcasts around the topic of words/thoughts/concepts.

The only thing that comes close to listening to this podcast was reading some of these very interesting comments, especially those of first hand experiences. I had already read Dr. Taylor's book (truly a mezmerizing book btw, _My Stroke of Luck_), and am also reminded of the story of Helen Keller, which fascinated me as a child. Perhaps I've missed my calling.

Nov. 21 2010 04:27 PM

In the beginning was the Word...

Nov. 20 2010 08:31 AM
Jon Bender from Berkeley, CA

Re: the story of self - you should contact Eckhart Tolle. He has a lot to say about it.

Nov. 15 2010 12:52 PM
Ben from Lancaster, PA

A direct link to the video:

Nov. 07 2010 08:34 PM
Sethward from GR, MI

You can find it on iTunes, occultfan. It's fantastic.

Nov. 05 2010 08:27 PM

I remember when this podcast was broadcast one evening, and it captured me somewhat fiercely. I remember, but have yet to find, a video which was mentioned to be on this page, or associated with it. Where do I find this video?

Nov. 03 2010 10:24 AM
Cole from Northern Indiana

Loved and hated this show. Let me explain please because you might misunderstand me. Loved because the emotions I felt while listening to the stories told. And hated because I learned a lot. And with knowledge comes answers but knowledge brings more questions. I love those new questions and looking into them. Confused? lol Thank you for the show I'll be following it more often. Looking forward to the next.

Oct. 29 2010 09:11 PM
Alejandro L. from Pennsylvania

Great show, I have a kid with a delay in speech & languaje and this show give extra insight in the problem and put together some pieces of the huge puzzle of information available for this kind of development issues. Thank you!

Oct. 18 2010 04:42 PM
Sayi from NY

Absolutely amazing program. wonder of wonders our brain.
Thanks very much.

Oct. 18 2010 03:28 PM
Roy from Vermont

This would seem to lend some support to Julian Jaynes idea that a new type of consciousness swept over the word several millenia ago. It seemed such a fanciful idea to me when I first read him many years ago, but the chilling stories of people suddenly acquiring language in adulthood or in the one case suddenly losing it for a while and the way it so completely altered their experience of the world seems no less fantastic.

Oct. 15 2010 03:45 PM
Brooke Shmuel from Scarsdale, NY

This was fascinating to listen to. I am a speech pathologist who has worked with the deaf population and sign language and currently with high functioning autistic children. I have personally found that I can sometimes better express myself in sign language than I can in spoken language. My kids at work respond to visual representations so well. Its amazing to see that click and that light go on. I wish I had this knowledge and understanding when my grandmother had a stroke and lost her use of language. there is so much beyond the spoken,

Oct. 12 2010 11:00 PM
Phoebe from NJ

What a great program - I love, love your show. Jill Bolte Taylor's book is great and really helped me understand my father's recent stroke. As for rats and the blue wall and biscuit -- my husband suggested that it is just that poor rats don't ever make it to age 6. ;)

Oct. 12 2010 09:01 PM
Matt L

It occurs to me that this show would naturally be a favorite of the type of people that listen to the radio; I would assume radio listeners tend to be verbal/auditory learners with an affinity for language.

Oct. 12 2010 04:25 PM
Milos from USA

I kept waiting for you to speak to the one group of individuals you left out of your story: Buddhists and other meditators who spend many years learning to turn off their thoughts while retaining full, focused awareness of the present moment. Their descriptions of what it is like to be both left-brained and right-brained at the same time -- without thoughts -- would have told us a lot about how people do, in fact, transcend the structures of language without losing their grasp on the real world.

Oct. 12 2010 04:20 PM
Berta from Virginia

My son's a non-verbal autistic with all the intellectual deficits implied. Thank for for a fantastic episode and thank you for a window into Jeff's world,

Oct. 11 2010 08:19 PM

OMGOSH, I loved this broadcast. It was an english assignment and I thought it would be so boring and I was actually able to sit here on my couch and listen the whole time without doing anything else. It made me think so much, I have so many questions now, words have such a big impact on our lives.

Oct. 11 2010 11:56 AM
William Letcher from Atlanta

I was struck by the feeling of joy the lady felt when her memory of words was compromised. I wonder if drug addicts are in fact seeking relief from the same background chatter.

Oct. 10 2010 10:23 PM
Andrew Kaplan from New York

The most profound piece here to me was the woman who stopped "thinking" after her stroke. The bliss she described in that time where all she essentially did was take in external stimuli was so provocative in beautiful. For someone like myself who is incredibly contemplative and ruminates, as much as I enjoy the ability to think, what was described seemed heavenly.

Oct. 08 2010 11:11 AM

This episode gripped me like few things on the internet have. Being an auditory person, I always enjoy the way you use sound in your stories. The first story in particular almost brought me to tears, and I was so glad I got introduced to you through "This American Life". Keep up the great work.

Oct. 08 2010 06:01 AM
Tyler Alterman from New York

At risk of hyperbole, I want to say this this episode was life-changing.

"Everything has a name!"

Thank you, RadioLab

Oct. 07 2010 11:39 PM

first: I love radio lab!

second: when you were talking about brain chatter-did you ever go and talk to someone who meditates? How does that work?

Oct. 06 2010 08:08 PM
Alan from New Orleans

now I understand why we don't remember much detail about our lives before age 4 or 5. We didn't then have the ability to express what we experienced, so we can't express it now. Very interesting.

Oct. 03 2010 11:14 PM
Juliana from South Carolina

I love every episode of Radiolab. As a speech-language pathologist (SLP), I found this one especially interesting.
I think an interview with an SLP would have added a lot to this show. It is a speech therapist's job to figure out how to bring the power of words to both children who have never learned them and adults who have lost them. Many listeners' questions may have been answered- especially regarding language learning in the autistic population and language rehabilitation for adults and children with brain injury and stroke.

Oct. 03 2010 07:44 PM
A.S. Paul from Phoenix

One thing struck me about this episode. Research has suggested that there is a critical period for learning language and that language cannot be acquired once this period has passed (generally after puberty). For instance, "Genie", the famous feral child, was unable to acquire language after being rescued at age 13. ldefonso, at 27, had long since passed the optimal age for learning language. How was he able to learn sign language fluently?

Oct. 03 2010 11:57 AM
Juliet from Paris, France

This podcast was so relavent to me. I am living in another country, thus learning and speaking a new (for me) language. The concept of learning a new language is the same as learning the first one. But for some reason I never "connected" the two concept of knowing the words and being able to think and understand.

In my bilingual relationship one of the major problems, I realize on listening to this, is that neither of us are fluent in the others language. Thus, we don't always understand each other. We fail to connect, simply because we don't have the words to understand.

I am so happy I stumbled on to this particular podcast, this particular evening.

Sep. 30 2010 04:23 PM

Like many other people I too thought of Autism when I heard this story. Temple Grandin would argue that people and animals can think without words.

Verbal development has been on my mind a lot as I watch my 14 month old niece learn how to talk. Much like ildefonso when she was younger I I, for example asked her to hand me a block and then pointed at it, she would point at it as well. After a few tries she understood that I was pointed in order to show her what block I wanted her to give me.

Another interesting phenomenon is that I've visited her a few times a month since she was born. From about 4 months on she started to recognize me and knows who I am. She knows the differences between a stranger and someone she knows well. Yet I'm not sure if she knows my name or not. When she gets older she will have no memory of the first time we met, when she was a day old. In her entire life, she has always known me in some fashion.

What I'm curious about is that is that shift from visual to verbal thinking that occurs in most people when the start to develop language. I wonder that accounts for why most adults can't remember their childhood before 3 or 4.

Before then we are thinking and remembering in pictures and in sound but when we start to develop language we begin to also think in words. And then it seems we lose old memories

Sep. 30 2010 01:53 PM

we arn't just limmiting our idea's but with word we are able to share them... learning how someone else looks at it and then able to form connections...

it's realy easy to say that without words you would know more or learn more, BUT if there where no words at all... no form of language we might be so primitive that we couldn't even realize this limmitation

be carefull what you wish for cause if it actualy happened it could turn out for the worse

Sep. 27 2010 09:54 AM
Paul from Chicago, IL

When I was 17 I studied abroad in a small town in Spain. There were no other native English speakers and I was fully immersed. For the first few months I was translating from English to Spanish in my head when I spoke and listened. After 3 months, I hit the point where I was thinking in Spanish. The switch had flipped. A month or 2 later, I recall having a very vivid idea/concept in my head, but no words. My vocabulary in Spanish was still much smaller than my thought capacity. And I had lost my ability to speak English, having not used it (except for writing 1 letter home each week) for 5 months. It was the first time I was able to think FREE of the confining limitations of language. It was a Eureka. I realized that words only represent an object or idea. Many people will also testify that the word for something in two different languages do not always (I'd argue rarely) mean the same thing. They're a little different. And sometimes the word in one language may be a more accurate representation of the idea you have than the equivalent word in another language.

To me, language defines through limitation. By using language, our ideas are confined to those limitations. But, according to some evidence presented in this program, language may also be responsible for forming the neurons linking areas of my brain to lay the foundation for thoughts beyond 2nd grade. I don't mind living in a world of limiting ideas, still plenty of room in there to think.

Sep. 26 2010 10:35 PM

Like Dan and gnomeshow, I kept thinking of autism when listening to this episode. I'd be very interested to see the results of the blue wall test with autistic children over the age of 5.

Sep. 26 2010 07:52 AM
Karen from New York, NY

Loooved your show. The lady who had the stroke sounds like a blast, I wish there were people like that at the conferences I go to. What a joy to hear such interesting programing.

Sep. 25 2010 12:25 AM

Every show makes me want to be a scientist. I don't have enough money or time to get all the degrees I'm interested in, thanks to Radiolab!

Sep. 24 2010 11:35 PM
johnk from NJ

Ok this is how good this show was: It was 10PM and I was rushing home after a long day to sleep but since I just cought the first 15 mins of this episode, I ended up logging into my laptop and HAD to listen to the rest of the show.

It is the LAST PLACE ON EARTH to get great Journalism ...

Sep. 24 2010 10:43 PM
John from Brooklyn, NY

I just lost an hour of productive work time, and it was worth every second. I have spent a lot of time thinking about thinking and the role of language within it. How would you describe the color blue, without simply naming things you know to be ("the color of the sky, the ocean, etc.")? Alas, I can't get any of my friends drunk enough to tackle such questions with me.

Thanks for an incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking program.

Sep. 24 2010 04:16 PM
Alec from St. Louis

Tremendous show.
For me a major eye-opener (or should it be ear-opener?). This made so much scientific sense and is so important to an understanding of "self", it should be on the curriculum in every school.
I appreciate good science, and this was great!

Sep. 21 2010 12:59 PM
Benjamin Brady

interesting that its impossible in English and most Germanic languages and also Arab & Asian that its to use the word "I" or equivalent therefore of with following it by a verb; a doing a word, a constant state of using language to self affirm ourselves and "that we are here", of existence from another.

Sep. 21 2010 11:30 AM

I used the first story in this episode, the 27 year old man learning language for the first time, to preface a small panel discussion on Language at the annual Burning Man event! Your work is enormously useful out on the desert, able to immerse without requiring accompany visuals. Thank you for the high quality as always!

Normally I listen to Radiolab alone, but it was a joy to share this story, especially the moment of the revelation for the man ("Everything has a name!") as a group with the audience present. When the childrens' voices played it felt as if we were all just a group of awed children with it.

Sep. 21 2010 04:56 AM
Hikerstephen from Boulder, CO

Eight years ago I had a stroke in the Broca area of the brain, well my brain. This was a small aneurysm that stop my speech. I was working by myself and didn't quite understand why I couldn't sing. I came to the hotel that night and I couldn't get any word out besides "t-t-t-tw-two" which is enough for food at McDonald's. I spent months getting my speech back. I had to have surgery and lost my speech again for 3-4 months. I still understood concepts and knew that there was a better word for that concept, but may not find that word. Did the words come before the thoughts, I don't know, but the thoughts remained after the words, I do know. Over time I have found that words come easier, but it take a conscience effort to keep me in shape.
The hardest part was to have little or no ability to speak and others instantly placed me into a less than human place. Without speech, few can understand and thus translate emotions and needs. A man who had the same stroke, but at an older age, hadn't spoke for five years, his wife I think hadn't let him speak was the real problem. I remember looking in his eyes and seeing someone who understood the world, but couldn't communicate out of his world. His wife didn't see he wasn't an invalid, but someone who just couldn't speak or write. I was dumb for a short time, it was not a place where I wish anyone to have to dwell. I believe the doctor in the story had a larger event happen. Her quiet after her stoke was because of larger constricted areas. Her entire left brain shut down and her right brain took over which is much bigger event than just speech. Her book was a good read and speaks of the nature of the left and right brain.

Sep. 19 2010 05:05 AM
Harpgirl from Saint Louis, MO

I tutor a 43 year old woman with developmental delays. This show has me sitting here with my mind just spinning with new ideas about how to think about her learning processes. Thank you SO much! You've broadened my horizons -- and hopefully hers -- dramatically!

Sep. 18 2010 05:05 PM
Steve Beall from East Coast, USA

OK, so we all have anecdotes or intuitions that seem to tell us that we can think fully and deeply without language.

But what this broadcast offered us was a solid mix of anecdote, intuition, and - most important - actual research that calls into doubt the assertion that, for instance, infants think without language.

Great broadcast, as usual.

Sep. 18 2010 04:13 PM
Chris from Montana

One) If you can communicate, you can think - infants are great communicators! Two) If you can make a joke, or laugh at a joke you can think! Spend any time around pre-verbal toddlers, and you'll fall in love with their sense of humor. Three) I'm not arguing that either the ability to communicate or make jokes are prerequisites to thinking, just saying that words are only one type of symbol/tool our brain uses to make sense of the universe.

Sep. 16 2010 10:07 AM
avi stachenfeld from here, now

Generally like your programs – your mental segues dance -- the show about Words, loved. Naming…wonderful that the scientists are reaching the point that the ancient Chinese Masters understood: “naming is the origin of all particular things.” (Stephen Mitchell, translator, poet, The Way of the Tao). Robert’s comment about Ms Taylor being “stranded” in the sunshine…fabulous…so, Robert, where are any of us if not stranded…isn’t the sunshine a great place to be stranded?

Sep. 14 2010 03:02 PM
DancingNoDancing from Minnesota

I'd like to hear you pursue this a bit further: if we think because we have words, consider other languages and how they may cause people to think differently. For instance, we say "I am cold." In Nepali, they say "Cold has attached itself to me." (In Nepali, of course.) The difference must cause different views of the world.

Likewise, you've done shows on animals and language. (E.g. apes using pictures to communicate.) What does this say about them? And us?

Thank you!

Sep. 13 2010 12:03 PM
Luana Alika from N. California

Besides applauding this (and other) amazing radio labs, I want to share something I heard on another interview with Jill Bolte Taylor. Someone asked her whether or not she was able to re-visit the inner silence, joyful state she was in when she was without words, and she reported that she WAS able to do it at will. I thought that was the most perfect thing possible; to be able to have the thinking/conceptual function available, but be able to drop into "nirvana" whenever you wanted. Obviously, reading some of the post herein, some other people are able to do that, too. I'm working on the on-off button, but....

I also want to report that I know I didn't think, in the normal terms or meaning of thinking, until I was around 34 or 35 years old. I hadn't put things together before listening to this radio lab, but I hadn't read but a few books until that age. In school I coasted by without reading much, and comic books were my main story-form of entertainment. I would guess I would say that I didn't have self-consciousness, I wasn't aware of being aware.

Thank you so much for so many wonderful labs. I am thrilled my local radio station changed your show to a time I could listen again, after a year or more absence.

Sep. 13 2010 02:17 AM

This episode was really interesting.

Sep. 13 2010 01:01 AM
Judith Krantz from Columbia, MD

Why didn't the man without language TEACH language the way he had been taught? And why was he brought to the class each session and his brother was not?

Sep. 12 2010 08:37 PM
Emily Oakley from New Zealand

This podcast also made me cry. It's fascinating to hear a concept, explained to you, in words, something which you had known all along but had never actually thought about. This is how I feel with the idea that thought cannot exist without world.

It makes me think about the book 1984, where Orwell explains his invented language 'Newspeak' - a language so simple, with so few words that one forced to speak it would eventually loose aspects of their thought processes - Orwell asks; how easy it would be to control a population if the word 'freedom' never existed?

Sep. 12 2010 12:14 AM
Topher from San Francisco

A another perspective:

As a child, I struggled a lot with language. Specifically, I didn't start speaking until I was 3 and I didn't start reading until the 3rd grade. I didn't know it at the time, but the delay was a result of an auditory processing disorder: I couldn't tell the difference between similar sounds and I couldn't break words into sound-pieces, or phonemes. I remember being in tears one afternoon in kindergarten with my teacher in disbelief that I couldn't hear the difference between "f" and "th." Imagine poor eye sight, except for language: everything's fuzzy. Still, learning other languages is painfully difficult, as I strain to literally hear and reproduce the words.

I bring this up because of a possible side effect: I'm a profoundly visual thinker. My dreams are saturated with images and symbols. When I mediate, it's like watching a moving collage. The images are incredibly clear. As a child, I was naturally literate in the symbols and imagery used in books and film. I didn't know that all this had a name, semiotics, until I got to college. This kind of literacy often gets overlooked, but it's an incredibly valuable tool.

I reject the idea that we don't (or can't) think without words. The color red and the image of a cloud, for example, both have a lot of meaning without the sounds "red" and "cloud" attached to them. When I wake up from my dreams, I often realize my unconscious has used symbols to make sense of something I never would have thought of otherwise: the "language" of images is as foundational as the language of spoken words.



Sep. 11 2010 08:45 PM
Ryan from Kelowna, BC, Canada

Wow, this is the first podcast that's made me cry. What a beautiful piece

Sep. 11 2010 01:43 AM

For anyone interested:

The piece of music at 52:07 is "Theme No. 1" by "Balmorhea" from the album "Rivers Arms"

The piece of music at ~58:30 is "Dungtitled (In A Major)" by Stars of the Lid, from the album "And Their Refinement Of The Decline"

Sep. 11 2010 12:05 AM
WER from West Philadelphia

Great episode, the stroke experience sounds very similar to my experiences with seizures. Moments without language can very wonderful indeed!

Sep. 09 2010 02:03 PM

Sorry, when I said "see" mostly in pictures, I meant "think" mostly in pictures.

Sep. 09 2010 10:54 AM

I would have thought that some discussion with or concerning certain "autistics" that have language difficulties early in life and see "mostly" in pictures (Temple Grandin and many many with Asperger's).

Sep. 09 2010 12:34 AM
Gonzalo Sepulveda from La Serena, Chile

Very interesting episode, quite a lot of questions left unanswered (Shakespeare..) such as the concept of concience or awareness... what would be concience without language? I wish this kinds of podcasts would be available in Spanish as well, please give it a thought. Greetings and congratulations from Chile!

Sep. 08 2010 06:40 PM

Really and truly enjoyed.

Sep. 08 2010 01:02 PM

Yet another excellent show. Keep it up!

Sep. 08 2010 06:07 AM
Zachariah Steward from Orlando,fl

Iv'e listened to probably every episode and this is one of my all time favorites. The video nearly had me in tears. Keep up the awesome job, can't wait to hear and see what you guys broadcast next:)

Sep. 07 2010 08:15 PM
Tex from NYC, NY

I can't stop thinking about this episode! Thank you so much for the topic.

Sep. 03 2010 07:58 PM
Brenna from Aberdeen, MD


Sep. 03 2010 08:35 AM
Paul from Orem, Utah

I actually remember when I was a little kid and all of the sudden I could "talk in my head." I remember how I thought that I just never realized I could, but after hearing this podcast I realize my memory is of the first time I had the ability to talk in my head.

Sep. 02 2010 10:56 AM

Hi folks,
Several people had asked for a transcript of the Words show. It's now available - just click the "Transcript" icon in the orange bar near the top of the page. Sorry about the delay, and enjoy!

Sep. 02 2010 10:49 AM
Lorenzo from Austin, TX

Radio lab ! I would like to say THANK YOU ! for the knowledge ! I am 19 and I'm always wanting to know more and more about everything, you guys always seem to explain sophisticated subjects in clear ways ! Thank you !

Sep. 01 2010 11:45 PM

Every time. RadioLab, you blow my mind every single time. (In a good way.)

Sep. 01 2010 10:32 PM

As noted by several other commentators the Jill Bolte Taylor segment (at 30:00 or so in) is rife with the vocabulary of Buddhism. If you access her TED talk you find even more rampant references including the word "nirvana" and explicit discussion of the "life force power of the universe."

I was very surprised that this connection to the reports of the tactile side of Buddhist (and Hindi) meditation was not pointed out anywhere in the segment. Is Buddhism really that unknown still in the US?

For some examples of what I'm talking about try listing about halfway through this talk by Gil Fronsdal, a meditation and Buddhism teacher:

NYC is also home to a few very well known Buddhist organizations, including the Shambhala Meditation Center, and I'd love it if Jad and Robert could do a followup interview with one of the teachers there. They have a website (of course):

Aug. 17 2010 10:25 PM

Cognition is proportional to the extent at which one can integrate ideas and words. It's called Dual-Coding developed by Alan Paivio.

Aug. 17 2010 03:48 PM

I just listened to Jill Bolte Taylor describe her experience also. Yes, I had the same thought as the previous poster. Ms. Taylor experienced enlightenment; the same experience that practicing Buddhists have described for centuries, such as the absence of "I" and the experience of being directly connected with everything, the “universe” as a whole. But it's unfortunate that she had to arrive at this experience via a stroke. Insight meditation is a far more pleasant way to reach enlightenment.

Aug. 17 2010 03:13 PM
Chris Hartbarger

What a truly precious gifts your shows are. They give me hope. They bust through the crust of tedium, allowing
shafts of powerful ideas to shine in.
Thanks to you all,

Aug. 17 2010 12:52 PM

As I listened to Jill Bolte Taylor talking about silencing the chatter of words, experiencing peace through the direct wordless experience of the present, and about the "self" being the fictitious story we tell ourselves with language, I kept waiting for someone to say "...and this is exactly what Zen Buddhism is all about." I was surprised nobody mentioned it.

Aug. 17 2010 11:12 AM
m navarro

I wonder how would I do in the “left of the blue wall” experiment because that phrase doesn't make much sense to me.
I understand perfectly the concepts of UP, DOWN, IN FRONT, BACK, HERE and THERE, both in English and in my native tongue, Spanish. However the words RIGHT and LEFT confuse me in either language. I know that one means one side and the other means the opposite side, however in real life whenever I want to know which is which I have to move the hand I use for writing (mimicking writing) and watch it. Only then I know for sure that side is RIGHT and the opposite one is LEFT. Would a visual image of "left of the blue wall" be good enough to pass the test without a clear concept of the meaning of the word LEFT?
Interestingly I have a PhD in Chemistry and one of the things I work with is chirality, the difference between right and left in molecules.
The experiment where one has to repeat what somebody else is saying reminded me of the translators in the United Nations, who don't just repeat what somebody else is saying, but have to translate it and say it in another language.
Great show!

Aug. 16 2010 11:05 PM

The show is ostensibly about "words" but it is really about "consciousness" or even better "awareness". When we turn off language, turn off the judgements, turn off thinking we touch upon unadulterated consciousness or awareness. That's the bliss Dr Taylor felt after her stroke, that's the state she appears to be striving to achieve again. This is the state that numerous mystics have sought and taught about for generations. I say this as a confirmed skeptic, a lover of science and reason, a person who would not even acknowledge that consciousness existed until I experienced this state myself. I had the pleasure of experiencing this state through the Avatar Course and like Dr Taylor, I am striving to regain that state as often as possible.

Aug. 16 2010 08:24 PM

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Aug. 16 2010 05:43 PM

Charles noticed the connection between Buddhism and Jill Bolti Taylor's experience, and I want to add that the connection seems to go beyond just tuning out mental chatter. She also reported a sense of oneness with all other beings, as well as a sense of peace. It would be quite an irony if our human super-skill of communicating with words is keeping us from connecting on this deeper level.

Aug. 16 2010 04:14 PM

A thought-provoking episode - thank you! Like Dan, I kept returning to the link with autism, the theory of the mind, and communication disorders. I hope you'll consider taking your exploration a step further.

Aug. 16 2010 04:07 PM

I'm wondering how the left-of-the-blue-wall experiment would work with chimps or bonobos who have been taught sign language or other ways of communicating with humans. Assuming that these individuals can use language like "left of the blue wall," would their performance in this test differ from others who do not have the same language skills?

To generalize, are humans over age 6 the only animals capable of passing this test? There's a pretty gap between rats and humans.

Aug. 16 2010 03:53 PM

Words can't describe how good this episode was. Hur hur hur.

Aug. 16 2010 02:19 PM
David J

I don't think it makes sense to say that words create concepts. How did people first come up with the words to describe the concepts they didn't have yet (if the concepts were created by the words)? How did Il Difonso come to realize things had names without language telling him things had names? How did Shakespeare create new words?
Also, Jad too quickly accepts Dr. Spelke's interpretation of the adults shadowing the blue wall experiment. Shadowing doesn't "knock out language"--it directs processing resources to a demanding task and that can/will result in decreased attention to the world around you. A better control would be to find adolescents or adults who were born deaf to hearing parents and had never learned sign and see how they do. Of course, Dr. Lila Gleitman's observations of such children inventing linguistic systems to converse with their hearing parents means that you're very unlikely to find any individual without ANY sort of linguistic system (short of abuse or other extreme situations, which have other complications and confounds).
What Dr. Bolti Taylor describes about not being able to access her memories without language is interesting, but it doesn't mean language is how we have memories. It might just mean that she lacked the retrieval cues necessary to call up those bits of information. Also, she must have had SOME memories because she describes having a quiet and joy she had never before experienced--how would she know that without memory. Further, memory is not just a monolithic thing--there are implicit and explicit memories. She probably hadn't forgotten how to walk without language, for example. So this is oversimplified and misleading in that respect.
The story of Nicaraguan Sign Language and passing the false belief task is a bit confusing to me. How did the older kids who are bad at understanding other's mental states ever learn the words without the underlying concepts already in place? Jad says they might be "really hard" to access without language, but that's not the same as words creating concepts. I don't have an alternative explanation for why the adults were failing the task and thinking the older brother would look where the younger brother hid the train--other than, maybe, the lack of words for mental states simply caused the first-generation NSL signers to not pay as much attention to mental states as people who have had the existence of the distinctions reinforced by the distinctions among the words/signs. Which is similar to saying that words caused these people to think differently, but puts the explanatory burden on attention rather than words of themselves.

Aug. 16 2010 11:23 AM

The deaf association just put another nail in the coffin of "children should be seen and not "heard." :D And I would think language is constantly evolving for all of us. golly gee, swell, cool, groovy, nerd, dweeb, bling, and as my son just so recently told me...O M G MOM! I think the new texting, tech talk has pushed language to extreme efficiency. Maybe one day in the not too distant future today's speech will be seen as long and complicated as Shakespeare? But with all the efficiency would we lose the the "feeling" behind the words? The poetry in them? The throng will be no more?

Aug. 16 2010 11:11 AM

I'd love to know the song that starts at 8:52 as well. I am surprised that Jad doesn't list the music he uses in these programs. I have asked in the past and he never responds. Does he read these comments?

I really like these programs but I am quite disappointed that the music used is not listed. Other programs that are on this level do give credit to the music used, TTBOOK, This American Life...

Aug. 15 2010 10:49 AM

On my fourth listen. I love how you guys blow my mind every. single. time. One part of my brain works to wrap itself around the concepts. Then add some headphones, (which allows appreciation of the fine mixing skills), and I'm in twisty fits of aurgasm. The bit on Shakespeare makes me hold my breath and my eyes water. As someone who loves reading and language, how could I have not known this? Then to read the comments from people who obviously think so differently than I (math brainers). I love every minute. I'm a simple girl. Thank you for freaking my mind.

Aug. 14 2010 03:26 PM

I've been a writer all my life. Writing isn't what I do. It's who I am. The combination of meditation, when you quiet the voices in your head, and spending countless hours with my daughters, attempting to experience the world through their eyes, brought me to a point when I experience a lot of amazing moments in that silence, where I just am, and I'm just experiencing. Long before this episode, the only way I could describe it, is the cliche: Words cannot describe. I find myself there more and more and more. At first, as a writer, it was unnerving. Now? It's nirvana.

Aug. 14 2010 02:59 PM

This was a great, thought-provoking podcast. As a physicist who works with math and abstract concepts, I would like to echo the post by Desi Quintans. Very often I can think through a problem without words - it feels more like a spatial/visual reasoning process. When I hear Dr. Jill Bolti Taylor’s feeling of peace without the mental chatter, it jumps out at me as a Buddhist that this is, in part, what meditation is about. Not that thinking is bad, but giving yourself a break from that incessant commentary can be refreshing. With all the Radiolab shows about how our brains work, I think it would be interesting for Jad and Robert to look at how Buddhism (as a practice, not a religion) addresses some of these issues.

Aug. 14 2010 10:06 AM
Marcelo Castro

Excellent, really... but when will Radiolab do a show on sex?. Is sex not a big issue?

Aug. 14 2010 05:35 AM

I'm interested in what the bit about Il Defonso not remembering the time before he had language tells us about infantile amnesia (see my name link). Seems to strongly suggest evidence for the language theory...

Aug. 14 2010 05:07 AM

Another fascinating episode. I wonder what bearing the anecdote at the end with Il Defonso's inability remember before speech has on the infantile amnesia question (see the link behind my commenter name)? Seems to pretty compellingly suggest the language theory...

Aug. 13 2010 11:24 PM
Alyssa Goss

I've spent the whole of my life that I can remember asking these questions. I've always been fascinated by words and my thought process is basically a narrative devoid of pictures. I always speculated I wouldn't be able to think at all without words. I'd bring this idea up sometimes and teachers/parents would roll their eyes at me. I'm glad to know other people are out there asking this sort of thing too.

Aug. 13 2010 10:49 PM

I don't know how many times I've listened to this.

Aug. 13 2010 10:45 PM
Greg C

That was the best podcast I have ever heard bar none. I actually cried at the part where Il Defonso realized everything had a word; the production audio behind that narrative was truly emotive.

Then I shouted-out "no way" at the segment on words and the ability to think (the white room and blue wall).

This one really made my week...or my month. Amazing!!!!!!!

Aug. 13 2010 07:07 PM
Mike L

Great episode. One part that really got me was the suggestion that until children have the words to describe "left of the blue wall", they don't have the cognitive function to combine those two concepts; the idea that there is a "shazam" moment, when the processing of a linguistic phrase actually forms a new connection among the mental islands of the brain. Makes me wonder if the specific phrase that triggers that connection makes a difference. Is there a functional difference between the brains of someone who first learned "left of the blue wall" and someone who first learned "under the tall tree"? Fascinating stuff...

Aug. 13 2010 04:47 PM
Alycia Janifer

That experiment where the adults repeat continuously, my mom does that all day. She's a voice writer. I wonder if she would be able to do left of the blue wall while repeating speech.

I think she could.

Aug. 13 2010 11:08 AM
Stacey Dyer

LOVED this episode and thought it was grand to hear the recognition of newly created words from Shakespeare as well as a nod to words that currently are dead in terms of conversational use. Our design firm has a project blog dedicated to my logophilia. Would love everyone who enjoys language to peek into our designerly word gallery (see link above!).

Aug. 13 2010 08:52 AM
Desi Quintans

When Dr. Jill Bolti Taylor said that she had "pure silence" in her mind, which she had never known until the stroke, I thought that was strange. I spend the vast majority of my time without any brain chatter or conscious thought process that I can perceive.

When I'm doing maths or writing something or doing a puzzle then yes, I am thinking, but without using words or 'talking aloud' to myself in my mind. More often than not, using words in my thoughts confuses me and I am much more successful with maybe a spatial model. The rest of the time when I am doing rote tasks or brushing my teeth or whatever, it is entirely silent unless I consciously decide to think about something.

It's kind of nice, actually; other people can't stop worrying, and I've never had to deal with that.

Aug. 13 2010 03:03 AM

At 23:39 James Shapiro mentions "princes orgulous" as a Shakespearism that he has never understood. It comes from French and means "proud or arrogant" (modern spelling "orgeilleux").

Aug. 13 2010 12:50 AM

Did those other language-less Mexicans ever learn to speak/sign???

Aug. 12 2010 08:18 PM

Wonderful episode! Made me almost weak in the knees when I heard how Il Defonso started loving words after he figured out what they were. Very touching thinking about language and words in a more abstract sense. Jeremy has an interesting point about the regressive nature of language in the 21st century. Should language be less abstract? or should language be more communicative? or is your mind loosing its neural connections as you forget different words in your vocabulary making you less communicative?

Aug. 12 2010 01:52 PM
Chris K.

Excellent show. The first segment reminds me; as a budding computer scientist, I still fondly remember the time I realized the power of "pointers" (a variable that points at another variable). Much of learning computer programming languages mirrors this same process of discovering layers of expressive power and abstraction. (With far less of the vocabulary learning that makes human languages difficult to become proficient at.)

Aug. 12 2010 12:02 PM

There ought to be a word that describes that feeling you get right after you listen to Radiolab.

I know you all know what that feels like.

Aug. 12 2010 05:01 AM

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Aug. 12 2010 04:15 AM

That was very cool.

What this made me think is that if language does more than allow one person to talk to another, but actually forges new connections between one "island" of brain function and another, conferring new cognitive abilities, then what does that mean for humans as a species, the current level of language sophistication, and the potential for humans, even without evolutionary advance, to advance cognitively with the brain we already have?

I think there is plenty of evidence to show that there are "islands" of brain functions, "supernodes" as it were, in our neural net, that are not well connected, and even the largest brain structures we have are not necessarily that well connected. For example, even though right and left hemispheres of the brain are connected by the corpus collosum, I believe that our emotional processing (the limbic system at the core of our brain) is not that well connected to the outer cortex as a whole.

Because of our position at the top of the food chain, and at the top of the "intellect" chain, taken together with everything we know about biology and neurology, all leads us to tell ourselves a story about our species in which the smartest people in the world are using their brains at the peak of the potential of the human brain.

What if this isn't true though? What if there are cognitive abilities that no human being has ever developed before, because our language and our imagination hasn't forged the connections required to manifest those latent cognitive abilities? What if the biggest single facilitator or inhibitor of human advance is language--but that we haven't figured this out yet?

Certainly there have been huge advances in how we meet our needs since the dawn of the industrial revolution. But these are advances in process, do not necessarily indicate advancement in human cognition. We're just about to witness the dawn of Internet 2.0, but I don't think anyone thinks that has anything whatsoever to do with making the transition to Human 2.0.

In the last 2,000 years, has language itself advanced? Certainly, a greater percentage of people are literate today than at any time in human history, but does that mean that language has advanced? I am not sure that it does. If language itself were to advance, would that bestow on the human mind a greater capacity to intuit solutions to the types problems that, as individuals, as companies, as nations, we have been unable to solve throughout history? Could the advancement of language, all by itself, confer an advancement, not only in humans, but in humanity?

As the deaf people in this story developed words and concepts surrounding thought and cognition, they began to develop, or at least improve their skills surrounding what is known as "theory of mind." Eskimos, who encounter snow every day, have 15-20 different words for snow in their language. In English we have only one word for love. I used to think this was only because love was not something we necessarily encountered every day. However, maybe it works the other way too. Maybe the lack of a robust conceptual basis inhibits it, forming a feedback loop.

As we enter the 21st century, is language progressing? To be honest, I am not sure that language is not in a regressive phase. Make of that what you will for the future.

Aug. 11 2010 09:44 PM

This podcast was amazing! I never thought of language in such a unique way!

Aug. 11 2010 05:10 PM

Great episode. The last bit, about how Il Defonso can't remember being languageless very well, was particularly interesting: how it can be really hard to hold on to memories of thinking when you can't think like that any more. I think any immigrant child who has lost fluency in their parent's native language can relate to this, or even someone who was once a good foreign language student in high school but has lost fluency since then. I was hoping you would take the exploration to this kind of variable polyglot state--maybe next time? I have a pretty good memory of many parts of my life going back to age 3, and while I can distinctly remember my frustration with not being able to read or write yet, and even the pieces of paper on which I would 'fake' write, I can't actually remember learning either.

Aug. 11 2010 04:33 PM

Loved this episode! It kind of reminds me of a story my ASL teacher told me. In a family she knows, many of the people were deaf. A few of the children were at a family party playing a game when something crashed in the kitchen. Two of the children looked up and then immediately looked at each other in surprise. Since their family gatherings were mostly silent, neither of the two knew the other one could hear until then.
A woman I work with also works with people that are languageless. I think the whole subject is fascinating. Thanks for doing the podcast.

Aug. 11 2010 02:55 PM

Wonderful episode. P6 -- the Bill Evans clip was Peace Piece from 1958.

Aug. 11 2010 09:47 AM
Travis Low

Amazing episode...full of wonder and beauty. For anyone that liked this episode, I would really encourage you to seek out and watch 2 films...both by Werner Herzog. The first is a feature length narrative film called "The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser". It is a story based on the German tale about a fully grown man in Germany who had never been taught to read, talk, or communicate in any way. It is brilliant. The other film is a feature length documentary called "Land of Silence and Darkness" about people who are both deaf and blind. Also a brilliant piece of work.

Aug. 11 2010 12:52 AM

Thanks Daniel, I'll give it a try.

Aug. 10 2010 11:29 PM

Ok, so the 2 brothers test: The older brother knows the younger one is going to take the train and play a prank or cause mischief (that's what kid brothers do with toys), so that's why he goes to look in the toy box first when he returns. We've all done this and "showed up" little siblings or kids who thought they were clever (much to their delight). That's why the older deaf people got it right... anyone with me?

Aug. 10 2010 09:25 PM
Rae Gateley

Great epidsode, mesmerizing film! And thank you for editing the film and making it G-rated.

Aug. 10 2010 08:06 PM

Oreneta - I had the same issue before. I came to this site and added the show to my itunes again and to my surprise I found out it was pulling episodes from a different place. In my old radiolab I was synced to, I would get very few episodes a year and I always assumed it was because wnyc wanted us to visit the site more often. My new subscription had all the content though.

Aug. 10 2010 07:24 PM

Love to know what the short Bill Evans clip was from. Can you say?

Aug. 10 2010 07:10 PM

Great episode, but my 4 year old had absolutely no problem with the blue wall test. I'd say he's gifted, but I heard that short a few weeks ago and I'm not sure if gifted exists!

Aug. 10 2010 05:42 PM

I noticed that the test involving the two brothers, the train, and the toybox is the same test that has been used to diagnose autism in children. Does this suggest similar cognitive issues at work re: the delayed language acquisition of autists and the language-less state of the older signers?

Aug. 10 2010 05:28 PM

this episode made me so happy. the groove is back and i can't wait for the next installment. i heart the whole radiolab team!

Aug. 10 2010 04:55 PM

Its a wonderful program that I wanted to share with a deaf co-worker, but couldn't find a transcript...

Aug. 10 2010 03:15 PM

Absolutely fantastic. Thank you so much!

Aug. 10 2010 02:27 PM
Shane Sahadi

Agreed. This episode was fascinating. When Dr. Jill Bolti Taylor described her situation as 'Pure Silence' and Paul Brocks (sp?) " called our selves, a story. I immediately thought of Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth, which argues our thoughts are merely stories and not our true self.
Is there a connection between this science and philosophy or faith? Interesting.

Aug. 10 2010 01:20 PM
Stanley Rost

Thank you! That was an amazing episode!

Aug. 10 2010 01:02 PM

This was an absolutely fascinating episode. Thank you so much to all involved!

Aug. 10 2010 12:37 PM

Yet another amazing episode! What's the background song that starts 8:52 in?

Aug. 10 2010 12:33 PM

Absolutely LOVED it. My heart almost burst when I heard Dr. Taylors voice. One of my favorite TED talks. You guys are awesome.

Aug. 10 2010 11:47 AM

The podcast feed in my itunes updated just fine.

Aug. 10 2010 08:34 AM

Wondering why the most recent shows aren't showing up in iTunes, the latest one that is over there, at least on my server is from the 15th of June, 2010. Policy or problem?

Thanks guys, great shows.

Aug. 09 2010 11:32 PM

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