Thursday, August 07, 2008

Speaking inTongues:

The History of Language. This was a great TV show that I saw recently featuring not only Peter Ladefoged but also Salikoko Mufwene among others. Let's not forget Chomsky. I noticed that an internet friend, Peter T. Daniels, was a consultant for this series.

Currently there are more than 6,000 languages spoken around the world. This five-part series traces the history and evolution of language and attendant theories and controversies while evaluating the scope of linguistic diversity, the dissemination of language, the expansion of language into written form, and the life cycle of language. Prominent figures in the field of linguistics—Noam Chomsky, John McWhorter, and Peter Ladefoged, to name only three—are featured. 5-part series, 48 minutes each.

One striking fact was that out of 6,000 languages in existence today, only 600 will survive as living languages into the next century. Touchingly, Ladefoged talked about the reasons why the younger generation do not carry on the language of their parents. He spoke of the enormous loss of ecological diversity.

Mufwene injected some realism into the discussion by suggesting linguists should show more concern about the people and maybe a little less about the dying languages. It is not always to the benefit of the users of the language to be speakers of a minority language. The cost may be high.

I highly recommend this series but I don't know when it will be available elsewhere.


Iyov said...

It is available now for a mere $750.

FilmsMediaGroup rarely releases their films for consumers -- they usually have exclusive rights in the US. Look for a foreign edition -- but I am not sure this topic is mainstream enough to warrant a foreign DVD release.

David Ker said...


I don't consider the tower of babel to be a curse. People adapting to and interacting with their environment over centuries have developed rich language to describe the human condition and the world around them. When a language dies we lose access to the insight of centuries of human thinking. That's why dying languages are worth preserving. While I am a big proponent of the benefits of globalization, the use of languages of wider communication almost always results in the diminished ability of individuals to express themselves.

Thanks for the tip on this show.

Sue said...


It was excellent and I would hope that it will be on TV again.


This is a topic that I am very conflicted on and would like to talk about more later. I am heading out the door for the weekend - more later.