TED is one of the best sources of inspiration for many. Founded in 1984 as a non-profit conference, it quickly became an annual world-famous event. TED’s first talks were focused mostly on technology and design, but as time went on, the breadth of topics expanded. Nowadays, TED covers almost all topics, from business to global issues, united under the same slogan “Ideas worth spreading”. The talks are mostly short (up to 18 minutes usually), very powerful, and inspiring. TED Talks are translated into more than 100 languages and have been available for free online viewing since 2006. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?
What’s even more amazing is that TED Talks are always interesting to watch. You might not be an expert in each specific field, but you can still enjoy and learn from the vast spectrum of TED videos currently in existence. TED language talks is one of the most intriguing subcategories for linguists and language-lovers in general. There are so many diverse and inspiring videos on the topic, which makes picking the best—or at least the most interesting—incredibly hard. Still, we’ve compiled 5 excellent language talks that are worth your consideration.
1: HOW LANGUAGE SHAPES THE WAY WE THINK – LERA BORODITSKY
We know that languages are unique; they contain different sounds, vocabularies, and structures. But is there more than just that? Lera Boroditsky, a cognitive scientist, explains that arguments over how language shapes human thinking have been held since ancient times. However, only now do we have enough scientific data to really weigh in on this question. Using examples from different cultures, Boroditsky explains how language can shape the way we perceive colour, time, and numbers. She believes that speaking a specific language can impact the way our mind works, and she emphasises the importance of preserving languages that are soon to disappear.
2: THE HISTORY OF HUMAN EMOTIONS – TIFFANY WATT SMITH
Understanding our emotions is key to understanding ourselves better. However, this can be incredibly hard, especially when you’re experiencing a feeling you can’t quite put words to. Tiffany Watt Smith works as a cultural historian and gives a brilliant talk on the history of human emotions. Did you know that years ago people were dying from nostalgia? Or that in the 16th century people used to believe that it’s sadness, not happiness, that makes our lives longer and our relationships with people better? Watt Smith addresses these and other important topics as well. She underlines that “learning new and unusual words for emotions will help attune us to the more finely grained aspects of our inner lives”. How does that make you feel?
3: DON’T KILL YOUR LANGUAGE – SUZANNE TALHOUK
There are so many languages in the world, but there won’t be as many in a few years. Languages are dying out all the time, often because people decide not to use them. Sadly, it’s not usually a conscious decision. Sometimes people abandon their native languages because others simply become more common (like English in the Arabic world) or sound more modern and even cooler. Suzanne Talhouk is a poet and advocate for the Arabic language who wants to save her mother tongue from extinction. “Language isn’t one, two or three words or letters put together. It’s an idea inside that relates to how we think, and how we see each other and how others see us”, she says. Her talk, in general, is very powerful and will engage even those who cannot relate to her particular situation.
4: WHY ARE THESE 32 SYMBOLS FOUND IN ANCIENT CAVES ALL OVER EUROPE? – GENEVIEVE VON PETZINGER
We’ve all heard about cave drawings—and some of us may have even seen them with our own eyes. Most often, anthropologists focus on the pictures that depict clearly understandable representations of animals, humans, and so on. However, paleoanthropologist and rock art researcher Genevieve von Petzinger didn’t settle for that. She went further and tried to find out if there is any meaning behind the abstract symbols drawn in European caves. Von Petzinger admits that the results were impressive. The symbols weren’t random and were found all over Europe, contributing to studies about ancient cave drawings being the origin of language. In her stunning speech, she examines how this discovery could impact our view of history and written language.
5: DON’T INSIST ON ENGLISH! – PATRICIA RYAN
English is an international language, and we all know that. It seems incredible that people from all over the world share such a common language, such an opportunity to communicate with each other. However, is English being a worldwide language always beneficial? Patricia Ryan, a language teacher who’s been teaching English in Arabic countries for the past three-plus decades, doesn’t think so. In her TED Talk, she shares concerns about English actually limiting many people, like the ones who cannot enter the best world universities because of their inability to pass an English test. Ryan takes Einstein as an example, emphasising that he was a genius, but was dyslexic as well. He probably wouldn’t pass an English test, but this doesn’t make him ignorant. Ryan says that there are so many people like Einstein: talented but unable to meet the academic requirements because they either don’t have the knowledge or the money to pass the test.
TED LANGUAGE TALKS: MORE WHERE THAT CAME FROM
All these 5 TED Talks are fantastic not only because the speakers are charismatic and smart, but because all of them focus on one of the most critical aspects of human existence and interaction—language. Most of us don’t usually dedicate a whole lot of energy to thinking about language, especially when our job or education isn’t related to the topic. It’s second nature for us to use language when we speak or write. However, taking some time to watch these videos could change your attitude toward individual languages and language as a whole; appreciating what we have already, and encouraging further innovation and restoration. What do you think about these TED Talks? Please share your opinions and let us know if you have recommendations for other videos!