17 Must Watch TED Ed Talks on Language and Language Learning

January 19, 2018
Language, this great social and symbolic resource we possess, is amazingly mysterious. It has been the centre of contentious debates dating back to ancient Greek philosophers. One particular topic that has stirred a lot of discussion in linguistic and non-linguistic circles is that  of nature vs nurture. That is, whether language is an innate universal capacity humans are born with and are predisposed to automatically acquire or whether it is a learned competence that requires some sort of formal/informal instruction. Proponents of the innateness hypothesis (a.k.a linguistic nativism) argue that language is acquired because, as Chomsky contended, humans are born equipped with what he called language acquisition device (LAD). LAD is an inherent biological mechanism that enables us to  easily acquire and produce language. One strong evidence in favour of innateness hypothesis is the fact that we can understand and produce sentences and utterances we have never heard. On the other hand, there is the empiricist camp (linguistic empiricism) which views language as a product of learning. To them all forms of knowledge is learned through senses and that “language and grammar are only learned through exposure and accumulated experience. This is also called the "nurture" perspective as opposed to the "nature" perspective (linguistic nativism).” Check out this Wikipedia page for a detailed discussion of these two hypotheses.

Regardless of which hypothesis provides a valid account of the acquisition vs learning problematic, one solid fact remains indisputable: language or more precisely linguistic performance, parole in de Saussure’s terminology, is an exclusive human feat. It is a source of fascination and wonder, a theme which I want to highlight in today’s post through a curated list of wonderful TED Ed talks. These are educational talks that tackle a wide variety of interesting topics related to language from contentious issues in language philosophy to the syntactic and semantic  mechanics of  language learning. You may want to use some of these talks with your students in class to engage them in fruitful discussions about language. Check them out and share with us your feedback in our Facebook page.

1- Where do new words come from? - Marcel Danesi
2- The benefits of a bilingual brain - Mia Nacamulli
3- Where do new words come from? - Marcel Danesi
4- How to use rhetoric to get what you want - Camille A. Langston
5- How interpreters juggle two languages at once - Ewandro Magalhaes
6- The pleasure of poetic pattern - David Silverstein
7- Does grammar matter? - Andreea S. Calude
8- How miscommunication happens (and how to avoid it) - Katherine Hampsten
9- How computers translate human language - Ioannis Papachimonas
10- How did clouds get their names? - Richard Hamblyn
11- Buffalo buffalo buffalo: One-word sentences and how they work - Emma Bryce
12- Where did English come from? - Claire Bowern
13- The language of lying — Noah Zandan
14- How languages evolve - Alex Gendler
15- Speech acts: Constative and performative - Colleen Glenney Boggs
16- A brief history of plural word...s - John McWhorter
17- Why is there a "b" in doubt? - Gina Cooke

17 Must Watch TED Ed Talks on Language and Language Learning

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