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Playlist: Words, words, words

12 talks · 2h 46m · Curated by TED

Words, words, words (12 talks)

As Wittgenstein wrote, "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." Watch talks by linguists, data analysts and word nerds who explore the all-encompassing power of language.

  • 1.
    3:57
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    Why is 'x' the symbol for an unknown? In this short and funny talk, Terry Moore gives the surprising answer.
  • 2.
    13:48
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    Does texting mean the death of good writing skills? John McWhorter posits that there’s much more to texting — linguistically, culturally — than it seems, and it’s all good news.
  • 3.
    13:11
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    What is jealousy? What drives it, and why do we secretly love it? No study has ever been able to capture its “loneliness, longevity, grim thrill” — that is, says Parul Sehgal, except for fiction. In an eloquent meditation she scours pages from literature to show how jealousy is not so different from a quest for knowledge.
  • 4.
    17:27
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    In an exclusive preview of his book The Stuff of 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.
  • 5.
    14:08
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    Have you played with Google Labs' Ngram Viewer? It's an addicting tool that lets you search for words and ideas in a database of 5 million books from across centuries. Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel show us how it works, and a few of the surprising things we can learn from 500 billion words. (Filmed at TEDxBoston.)
  • 6.
    16:39
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    After re-purposing CAPTCHA so each human-typed response helps digitize books, Luis von Ahn wondered how else to use small contributions by many on the Internet for greater good. In this talk, he shares how his ambitious new project, Duolingo, will help millions learn a new language while translating the Web quickly and accurately — all for free. (Filmed at TEDxCMU.)
  • 7.
    20:10
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    Biologist Mark Pagel shares an intriguing theory about why humans evolved our complex system of language. He suggests that language is a piece of "social technology" that allowed early human tribes to access a powerful new tool: cooperation.
  • 8.
    15:50
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    Is the beloved paper dictionary doomed to extinction? In this infectiously exuberant talk, leading lexicographer Erin McKean looks at the many ways today's print dictionary is poised for transformation.
  • 9.
    14:12
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    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. (Filmed at TEDxBeirut.)
  • 10.
    4:26
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    Tax forms, credit agreements, healthcare legislation: They're crammed with gobbledygook, says Alan Siegel, and incomprehensibly long. He calls for a simple, sensible redesign — and plain English — to make legal paperwork intelligible to the rest of us.
  • 11.
    22:01
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    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.
  • 12.
    10:35
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    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. (Filmed at TEDxDubai.)