- Steven Pinker on Language and Thought
Steven Pinker looks at language and how it expresses what goes on in our minds -- and how the words we choose communicate much more than we realize.
- TED Talks: Steven Pinker - Chalking it up to the Blank State
Linguist Steven Pinker questions the very nature of our thoughts—how we learn, use words, and relate to others—and his best-selling books have brought sophisticated language analysis to bear on topics of wide general interest. In this TEDTalk, Pinker discusses his 2002 volume The Blank Slate and why its thesis—that all humans are born with certain innate traits—is as disturbing to some people as it is fascinating to others.
- Birth and Death: The Life Cycle of Language
It is predicted that within a century more than half of the world’s languages will become extinct, but as languages are lost, new ones emerge naturally or are constructed. In this program, Noam Chomsky; Esperantist Thomas Eccard; endangered languages researcher Peter Ladefoged, who has since passed away; and others provide insights into the language life cycle. Topics include constructed languages such as Esperanto, language endangerment and preservation, and the role of globalization in language obsolescence. The experts also discuss current language trends and offer their opinions on which languages may emerge as front-runners of the future.
- Civilization to Colonization: Language Takes Written Form
Writing is a relative latecomer to the history of language. This program tracks its emergence in Mesopotamia, China, and Mesoamerica and its spread down through the millennia via conquest—usually violent, sometimes benign—and colonization. The creation of creoles and pidgins resulting from the interaction of specific populations is also addressed, and speculation is made about the first things to be written down. Noam Chomsky; Peter Daniels, coeditor of The World’s Writing Systems; the Manhattan Institute’s John McWhorter; MIT’s Michel DeGraff; and Salikoko Mufwene, of The University of Chicago, contribute.
- The Story of Babel. Constant Change: The Diversification and Spread of Language
In this program, John McWhorter, author of The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language; Lyle Campbell, of the University of Utah; Brian Joseph, of The Ohio State University; and population geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza examine factors that contributed to the diversification and spread of languages, including early migration, the introduction of agriculture, and genes. Language transfer from mother to child and from one population to the next is also investigated, along with the concept of dialects and commonalities among the world’s more than 6,000 languages.
- In a Manner of Speaking: The Phenomenon of Conversation
Social context, intonation, and body language add a vital layer of meaning to the spoken or signed word—a layer that can manifest only in conversation. In this program, Dr. Jonathan Miller addresses the subject of group talk, offering his observations on topics including the concept of “speech acts” à la Austin, Wittgenstein, and Searle; the implicit mechanics of verbal give-and-take; and the belief that social context, far from being a mere adjunct to linguistic communication, is actually the root cause of it. The implications of the apparent connection between right hemisphere brain damage and an impaired sense of linguistic nuance are examined as well.