The nature of language
Language in society
  • Jill Shargaa: Please, please, people. Let's put the 'awe' back in 'awesome'
    TED description: "Which of the following is awesome: your lunch or the Great Pyramid of Giza? Comedian Jill Shargaa sounds a hilarious call for us to save the word "awesome" for things that truly inspire awe."
  • Anne Curzan: What makes a word "real"?
    TED description: "One could argue that slang words like ‘hangry,’ ‘defriend’ and ‘adorkable’ fill crucial meaning gaps in the English language, even if they don't appear in the dictionary. After all, who actually decides which words make it into those pages? Language historian Anne Curzan gives a charming look at the humans behind dictionaries, and the choices they make."
  • The Racially Charged Meaning Behind The Word 'Thug'
    NPR's Melissa Block speaks to John McWhorter, associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, about the use of the word "thug" to describe Baltimore rioters.
Speaking multiple languages
  • Mia Nacamulli: The benefits of a bilingual brain
    It’s obvious that knowing more than one language can make certain things easier — like traveling or watching movies without subtitles. But are there other advantages to having a bilingual (or multilingual) brain? Mia Nacamulli details the three types of bilingual brains and shows how knowing more than one language keeps your brain healthy, complex and actively engaged.
  • Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies
    TED description: "Patricia Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another — by listening to the humans around them and "taking statistics" on the sounds they need to know. Clever lab experiments (and brain scans) show how 6-month-old babies use sophisticated reasoning to understand their world."
  • Tim Doner: Breaking the language barrier
    Young polyglot talks about superficial view of language learning in the media; explains "method of loci" (memory palace) and experimenting with other methods; about language and culture
  • Benny Lewis: Hacking language learning
    Polyglot explains his method for language learning; about polyglots; emphasizes motivation
    TED description: "'Some people just don't have the language learning gene.' To prove that this statement is patently untrue is Benny Lewis's life mission. A monoglot till after leaving university, Benny now runs the World's most popular language learning blog and is learning Egyptian Arabic which will be language number twelve, or maybe thirteen. But who's counting?"
On language learning
English as a world language
  • The speech accent archive
    Fascinating archive of American English accents
  • Suzanne Talhouk: Don't kill your language
    TED description: "More and more, English is a global language; speaking it is perceived as a sign of being modern. But — what do we lose when we leave behind our mother tongues? Suzanne Talhouk makes an impassioned case to love your own language, and to cherish what it can express that no other language can. In Arabic with subtitles."
  • Jamila Lyiscott: 3 ways to speak English
    TED description: "Jamila Lyiscott is a 'tri-tongued orator;' in her powerful spoken-word essay "Broken English," she celebrates — and challenges — the three distinct flavors of English she speaks with her friends, in the classroom and with her parents. As she explores the complicated history and present-day identity that each language represents, she unpacks what it means to be 'articulate'."
  • Patricia Ryan: Don't insist on English!
    TED description: "In her talk, longtime English teacher Patricia Ryan asks a provocative question: Is the world's focus on English preventing the spread of great ideas in other languages? (For instance: what if Einstein had to pass the TOEFL?) It's a passionate defense of translating and sharing ideas."
  • Jay Walker: The world's English mania
    TED description: "Jay Walker explains why two billion people around the world are trying to learn English. He shares photos and spine-tingling audio of Chinese students rehearsing English, 'the world's second language', by the thousands."
  • There Was No Committee
    Article by Geoffrey Pullum (from the Lingua Franca blog) on the rise of English in education world-wide
TED talks on endangered languages
  • Wade Davis: Dreams from endangered cultures
    TED description: "With stunning photos and stories, National Geographic Explorer Wade Davis celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the world's indigenous cultures, which are disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate."
  • Mark Plotkin: What the people of the Amazon know that you don't
    TED description: "'The greatest and most endangered species in the Amazon rainforest is not the jaguar or the harpy eagle,' says Mark Plotkin, 'It's the isolated and uncontacted tribes.' In an energetic and sobering talk, the ethnobotanist brings us into the world of the forest's indigenous tribes and the incredible medicinal plants that their shamans use to heal. He outlines the challenges and perils that are endangering them — and their wisdom — and urges us to protect this irreplaceable repository of knowledge."
Playing with language and identity
On the nature of TED talks