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The Human Language Series

Explores human language, its origins, acquisition and evolution.
Ivy (By Request)

Early English Aloud and Alive [electronic resource]: Language of Beowulf, Chaucer, and Shakespeare

Cultivating an appreciation of the English classics requires studying the mother tongue as it was originally spoken. In this program, Dr. Joseph Gallagher brings language to life by reciting examples of Old, Middle, and Early Modern English in their original dialects. In addition, he discusses the evolution of English syntax and morphology. A dramatization of a portion of Beowulf is also included, along with visits to historic literary sites important to the study of English, such as the Sutton Hoo burial grounds, Canterbury, and the remains of the Globe Theatre. Includes subtitles in Modern English, where necessary.
2005; 1991

Language [electronic resource]

Language is a social construct. It unites the individuals of a given community through a code that is understood by those who use it, ranging from street slang to the prescribed usage of grammar by an elite. This program examines language in a historical context and as a political tool. Since the advent of the printing press and, most recently, the Internet, English has become the universal language, replacing French. This has in turn meant the loss of many languages. Today only 6,000 are still spoken, and it is estimated that by the end of the 21st century, 90 percent of these will have disappeared.
2006; 1999

Birth of a Language [electronic resource]

Melvyn Bragg begins the story of English in Holland, finding ancestral echoes in the Frisian dialect. What follows is a chapter on survival as the English language weathers Viking and Norman invasions, vying with and eventually absorbing rival tongues. Lively settings such as village pubs and markets bring home the lasting influence of Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, and Old French. The connection between Christianity, Latin, and an alphabet is explored, as well as the role of the language's first champion, King Alfred the Great. Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney reads from and discusses the first epic in English, Beowulf.
2006; 2003

English Goes Underground [electronic resource]

With the Norman invasion, English became a third language in its own country, behind French and Latin. In this program, Melvyn Bragg examines the impact of Old French on the development of English. Manuscripts, tapestries, and dozens of curious etymologies help illustrate a tremendous influx of vocabulary pertaining to romance, chivalry, and, of course, food. The influence of Eleanor of Aquitaine's patronage is heard in works of poets and troubadours as the cult of courtly love flourished in England.
2006; 2003

The Battle for the Language of the Bible [electronic resource]

In late-medieval England, English quietly ousted French in law and government- but the move to make it God's language meant bloodshed. This program looks at the battle for a Bible in English, a struggle with huge impact on the language itself. Dramatic readings from successive English Bibles show the language's evolution. Location footage and original manuscripts illustrate key figures and events, such as John Wycliffe, the Lollards, and the first English Bible; William Langland's Piers Plowman; Henry V's official correspondence; the role of the Chancery or English civil service; William Caxton's printing press; William Tyndale's translation; and the King James Bible.
2006; 2003

This Earth, This Realm, This England [electronic resource]

Has any single person shaped English more than William Shakespeare? This program uses unparalleled access to some of the greatest English texts, including the first English dictionary and a rare first folio of Shakespeare's plays, to illustrate the great Bard's influence. John Barton, honorary associate director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, discusses the sound and accessibility of Shakespeare's words. His impact is also examined in the larger context of Elizabethan England and the Renaissance.
2006; 2003

English in America [electronic resource]

When Massasoit hailed the Plymouth settlers in their own language, they might have taken it for a sign that English would dominate the New World. Packed with surprising etymologies and intriguing stories, this program traces the dynamic relationship between English and America, exploring the linguistic influence of westward expansion, cowboy culture, slave culture, and encounters with the French and Spanish languages. Key works examined include The New England Primer and Webster's The American Spelling Book.
2006; 2003

Speaking Proper [electronic resource]

This program follows English through the 18th and 19th centuries, from attempts at reforming and standardizing the tongue in the Age of Reason to the soaring verse of Romanticism and the verbal prudishness of the Victorian era. Linguistic milestones are highlighted by original editions of critical texts, including Newton's Opticks, Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language, Thomas Sheridan's British Education, and George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. Other key figures discussed include Jonathan Swift, Robert Burns, Jane Austen, and William Wordsworth.
2006; 2003

The Language of Empire [electronic resource]

Amok, "boomerang," "bungalow," "bangle," "dumdum," "plonk," "assassin"-these are some of the many words that have entered English by way of colonial expansion. This program explores how the British Empire in its heyday exported its language around the globe and how different forms of speech and vocabulary, as well as different attitudes to English, developed out of that colonial expansion. Rich variations of dialect, accent, and slang are heard in many samples from India, the Caribbean, and Australia.
2006; 2003

Many Tongues Called English, One World Language [electronic resource]

This program explores how America's rise as an economic power made it the driving force behind the spread of English in the 20th century. A world tour illustrates how English has mixed with other languages-from "Franglais" in France to "Singlish" in Singapore-and how the dollar's power, coupled with the lure of consumerism, has made English the international trade language. Bringing it full circle, host Melvyn Bragg returns to the British Isles to survey English as it is spoken there now, measuring the influence of American slang and vocabulary from other languages.
2006; 2003

Sign, Symbol, and Script [electronic resource]: Origins of Written Communications and the Birth of the Alphabet

Written language is arguably humankind's most important invention. This delightfully accessible documentary uses maps, tables, artifacts, and copious examples to trace the progression of communication through its six stages: gestures, picture writing, pictograms, ideograms, phonograms, and acrophonic characters. Through detailed narration, the program explores topics such as the function of tokens, wall paintings, and wampum; the flowering of Egyptian hieroglyphs, Mesopotamian cuneiform, and Chinese ideograms; the influence of Ugaritic cuneiform and Sinaitic script; and the metamorphosis of the Phoenician alphabet into the Latin characters used today.
2005; 1996

Why Reading Matters [electronic resource]: Holistic Study for the Digital Age

Human beings were never born to read. This program seeks to understand how the brain, which has evolved no hardwired "reading center," made the leap to literacy; why reading well-crafted writing is so profoundly important to intellectual and emotional development; and whether the Internet, with its blogs and videos and games, is placing novels-a prime type of reading material for nurturing the capacity for empathy-at risk. Why Reading Matters is a trip into the space where neuroscience and literature overlap, a place where experiments involving fMRI and MEG imaging, talk of neuroplasticity and brain activation, experiences of stroke victims and people with mood disorders, and discussions of Wuthering Heights and Shakespeare's trick of turning nouns and adjectives into verbs shed a br [...]
2010; 2009

Why Do We Talk? The Science of Speech [electronic resource]

The average person will speak approximately 370 million words in his or her lifetime-a simple fact. And yet the underlying structures-sociological, anatomical, developmental, intellectual-have proved to be some of science's most impenetrable mysteries. This program spotlights researchers who are unlocking the deepest secrets of speech: Deb Roy and the Human Speechome Project; Tecumseh Fitch and his study of vocal tract positioning in animals; Cathy Price, who is piecing together a speech-related map of the brain; William Fifer and his study of the roots of language reception in babies; Ofer Tchernichovski, who is conducting The Forbidden Experiment with zebra finches; Faraneh Vargha-Khadem and the isolation of speech gene FOXP2; and Simon Kirby, whose Alien Language Experiment illust [...]
2010; 2009

Kids and Language [electronic resource]

Neuro-imaging has greatly improved our understanding of speech development. This video shows how the early detection and treatment of speech problems could potentially help a generation of children.
2005; 2000

The Power and the Glory [electronic resource]

Storytelling has been with us as long as language itself. The desire to both entertain and explain has resulted in the flowering of language to describe every aspect of the human condition. In this program, Stephen Fry discovers what makes a good story, and why some writers are better at conveying joy or horror than others. Topics include the Odyssey and the Iliad; James Joyce's Ulysses; the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and Stephen King (with Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson); character in Shakespeare; plot (with William Goldman); P. G. Wodehouse; Nineteen Eighty-Four, Newspeak, and business speak; W. H. Auden and Coldplay; and the lyrics of Bob Dylan (with Sir Christopher Ricks).

Uses and Abuses [electronic resource]

While not everyone approves of "'bad" words, in this program Stephen Fry learns that profanity plays an important role in human communication. Fry undergoes an MRI scan to find the part of the brain associated with swearing, and meets a stroke patient and a person with Tourette syndrome, both of whom say they can't help using the F-word. Topics include swearing to relieve pain (with Brian Blessed); the power of bad words in humor and social interactions (with Armando Iannucci, Stephen K. Amos, and Omid Djalili); the use of double entendres and euphemisms to hide true meanings; and how slang and jargon ultimately add to the richness of language.

Identity [electronic resource]

What makes one group of humans different from another? In this program, Stephen Fry argues that above all, it is the way they speak - be it a national language, regional dialect, or even class variation. Visiting markets in Kenya and call centers in Newcastle, Fry charts the shifting patterns of lingua franca and the inexorable spread of Globish (global English). Topics include English accents (with Ian McMillan); multilingualism; Jewish humor and Yiddish; an Irish soap opera that's keeping the Irish language alive; language death in Provence; the survival of Basque and the revival of Hebrew; the French Academy; and languages used by the Turkana people of Kenya.

Do You Speak American? [electronic resource]: Up North

In this program, Robert MacNeil canvasses the North to learn firsthand about linguistic dialect zones, the tension between prescriptivism and descriptivism, the impact of dialect on grapholect, the northern cities vowel shift, the roots of African-American English, minority dialects and linguistic profiling, biases against nonstandard speech, and the general perception of the U.S. Midland dialect as "normal American." Hip-hop street talk, IM slang, Pittsburghese, and Gullah and Geechee are sampled, and Bill Labov, the dean of American linguists; Jesse Sheidlower, American editor of the august OED; and New York magazine's John Simon are featured.

Do You Speak American? [electronic resource]: Down South

This program follows Robert MacNeil down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Appalachia, Louisiana Cajun country, and the Tex-Mex border to examine Southern dialects and accents and the influences of French and Spanish on American English. Linguist Walt Wolfram, columnist Molly Ivins, pop country singer Cody James, and others talk about regional differences in vernacular, the steady displacement of Southern coastal dialect by inland dialect, the accents of JFK and LBJ, and the Texas border town of El Cenizo, where Spanish is the official language. Recordings of Eudora Welty and Appalachian storyteller Ray Hicks are included, as well as WPA recordings from around 1940.