What we know from 150,000 years of human language

There was likely once a single language, first developed 150,000 years ago. That grew to as many as 100,000 languages, before we developed farming. Today there are 6,000 and by 2100, that might be back to as few as 500.

Along the way, languages have emerged, influenced each other and continue to change.

That comes from the 2003 book “Power of Babel,” the third consecutive book I read by linguist John McWhorter, which I finished early this summer. In the last six months, I’ve become quite a big fan of his — having read his 2016 book on language evolution and his 2009 book on the lesser-known stories of the English language history, I seem to be working through his language books in reverse chronological order. (Read the Guardian’s review of this book here.)

The title of the book is, of course, a reference to the biblical story in Genesis of the Tower of Babel. Following the Great Flood, humans speaking a single language plan to build a tower that can reach heaven. God destroys it, sets humans into an array of languages and spreads them across the world to keep them from conspiring to do something like that ever again.

Find my notes from the book below.

Continue reading What we know from 150,000 years of human language

01:10: Hip Hop Icon T.I.

Who better to explore one of popular writing’s most contested modern debates than an icon who has worked on both sides of that debate? That’s why today’s episode of The Writing Process Podcast, the final of this first season, is with T.I.

Conventional wisdom tells that the process of developing rap lyrics was polarized by the genre’s most prolific star: Jay-Z maintained he would develop lyrics in his mind, influencing Biggie’s habit of not writing lyrics either. That transformed a generation of rap stars into memory-led lyricists.

Continue reading 01:10: Hip Hop Icon T.I.

01:09: Daily Show Correspondent Dulcé Sloan

One of the highest profile jobs for young comics is a correspondent role on The Daily Show, the acclaimed satire-news anchor. Today’s guest has just that.

Atlanta-bred comedian has appeared on Conan and in 2017 was highlighted by Rolling Stone as among 10 comedians to watch. Last fall, she joined the cast of the Comedy Central staple.

In this episode of The Writing Process, hear her talk about when she chooses to write a joke on stage and when she crafts it on paper.

Continue reading 01:09: Daily Show Correspondent Dulcé Sloan

01:08: Singer-Songwriter John Elliott

Inside tiny edits, there are big secrets.

One of my favorite contemporary musicians is singer-songwriter John Elliott. For the eighth episode of this first season of The Writing Process Podcast, I spoke to the Minnesota-native and San Francisco-based independent artist.

In this episode, I unpack two of powerful writing ideas he exemplifies: leaving space for the reader to co-create and editing to get “more true.”

Continue reading 01:08: Singer-Songwriter John Elliott

01:07: Poet Danez Smith

For as subjective as poetry can be, there is little ambiguity is being named a finalist for a National Book Award in poetry.

That’s what Danez Smith earned with the 2017 poetry collection Don’t Call Us Dead. Hear from Danez in today’s episode of my Writing Process Podcast.

Continue reading 01:07: Poet Danez Smith

01:06: Memoirist Lori Tharps

The editing experience is always challenging. But it’s perhaps most difficult when you are telling your own story.

That is the focus of what I discussed with memoirist and journalist Lori Tharps, who is most recently a collaborator on Proud, the autobiography of Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first woman in hijab to compete for the United States in the Olympics. Tharps, herself, has written memoir in several forms, including her 2008 book Kinky Gazpacho.

Continue reading 01:06: Memoirist Lori Tharps

01:05: YA Author Blair Thornburgh

Blair Thornburgh comes from “book people, going back generations.”

The author of the 2017 Young Adult Fiction novel “Who’s That Girl” from HarperCollins, she says there is a saying around her family. Never give a Thornburgh a book — or you’ll be forced to sit there politely while they read it in front of you.

She’s just 28 but as an editor at beloved novelty publisher Quirk Books and in the midst of a two-book deal with a major industry powerhouse, she has some insight.

The author of two books, an editor on several others and working on her next novel, she reminds us that the joy of a book is that, as author, “you’re making a promise to the reader” and want to deliver.

Continue reading 01:05: YA Author Blair Thornburgh

01:04 Comedian Todd Glass

How does a joke writer take a punchline from a voice memo to a major Netflix comedy special? Let’s ask celebrated standup comedian Todd Glass.

In the fourth episode of the first season of the weekly Writing Process Podcast, I discuss that among many other methodologies from a man who doesn’t quite consider himself a writer. Todd’s perspective is unique: he grew up with several learning disabilities, so his relationship to writing is far different than others.

Continue reading 01:04 Comedian Todd Glass