Philosophy Podcasts

Recently Kevin Drum asked his readers for podcast recommendations. I learned two big things from his nice summary of the replies.

One is that the In Our Time archives have now been made available. This is a very nice thing for the BBC to do, and I suspect I’ll be spending a lot of time listening to them over the forthcoming months.

The other is that there is a lot of demand out there for philosophy podcasting. As well as In Our Time (which has over 60 philosophy programs in its archive), there were a lot of recommendations for David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton’s Philosophy Bites.

So in the interest of satisfying that demand, I thought I’d post a link to a couple more philosophy podcasts, and see if TAR readers had suggestions for more.

Philosopher’s Zone is a weekly philosophy show on Australia’s Radio National. It features a mixture of public lectures, interviews with philosophers, and programs on specific topics.

The 10-Minute Puzzle is a new podcast series out of the Northern Institute of Philosophy centre in Aberdeen. It basically does what it says on the tin: introduce a philosophy puzzle and some of the natural solutions to it in 10 minutes.

The links I’ve posted so far have a pretty high concentration of male presenters. But I’m sure that if I knew more about what was available, that imbalance would be somewhat corrected. So, any further suggestions?


Last week the linguistics department here at Michigan hosted the 2012 Marshall M. Weinberg Symposium. The theme for this year’s symposium was bilingualism. I learned a ton from the various speakers, much of it about how hard it was to learn a second language after very early childhood.

Even people who appear, to naive judges, to be fluent in a second language they learned after childhood, perform well below native speakers at cognitively demanding linguistic tasks, such as understanding speech in noisy environments, or explaining proverbs. I don’t have the citation link for this, but J├╝rgen Meisel reported that German students learning French by immersion did much better if the immersion started between 32 and 42 months than they did if they started after 42 months. The errors that he reported were common among the older learners after several months of immersion, like not getting the genders of articles right even for words like maman where you would think it was obvious, were really striking. Karen Emmorey reported that the same thing was true for learners of ASL; late learners can become fluent enough for practical purposes, but are never as good as people who learn ASL in early childhood.

The striking contrast to all this is how successful first language acquisition is. To a first approximation, 100% of people successfully learn the syntax of their first language, and do so at a staggeringly young age.

I realised a few days after the symposium that there was a huge question I wish I’d asked. Why are we so good at learning a first language, and so poor at learning a second language. What cognitive system would have such a feature(/bug), and what evolutionary advantage could there be to having such a system?

Continue reading “Bilingualism”