Language A to Z

Watch Language A to Z

  • 2020
  • 1 Season

Language A to Z is an educational show from The Great Courses Signature Collection that is hosted by none other than John McWhorter, an American linguist, academic, and author. The show is designed to educate people of all ages about the vast, diverse, and fascinating world of human language. The host takes viewers on an interactive and engaging journey through the alphabet, exploring everything from grammar to phonology, syntax to morphology, and beyond.

Each episode of Language A to Z focuses on a different letter of the alphabet, examining the sounds, structure, and usage of language in relation to that letter. Through a combination of lectures, discussions, interactive segments, and interviews with experts, McWhorter presents a comprehensive and entertaining overview of the linguistic principles that underpin human communication.

The show is divided into 26 episodes, each one covering a different letter of the alphabet. From A to Z, McWhorter explores every aspect of language, from the building blocks of words and sentences to the nuances of dialects and accents. He introduces viewers to the history and evolution of language, from ancient tongues to modern-day vernaculars, and investigates the ways in which language reflects and shapes culture, identity, and social dynamics.

One of the highlights of Language A to Z is the way in which McWhorter breaks down complex linguistic concepts into easily digestible and memorable tidbits. He draws on examples from everyday life, from social media to pop culture, to illustrate the principles behind language use. For instance, in the episode on the letter 'F', McWhorter examines the phenomenon of "F-bombs" – why we use the word 'fuck' as a swear word, how it has evolved over time, and what it says about the way we express emotions and attitudes through language.

Throughout the series, McWhorter introduces viewers to a diverse range of languages and dialects from across the globe. From Spanish to Mandarin, from Javanese to Swahili, the show celebrates the richness and diversity of human language, highlighting the similarities and differences between different tongues and cultures.

At the heart of Language A to Z is the idea that language is a living, dynamic, and endlessly fascinating field of study. McWhorter emphasizes the importance of embracing linguistic diversity, breaking down language barriers, and developing a deeper understanding of the way that language shapes our lives and our world.

Ultimately, Language A to Z is a must-watch show for anyone who loves language or is curious about the way that human communication works. John McWhorter is a charismatic and engaging host, and his passion for language is infectious. The show is both educational and entertaining, appealing to viewers of all ages and backgrounds. Whether you're a linguistic novice or an expert in the field, Language A to Z is sure to broaden your horizons and deepen your appreciation for the vast and endlessly fascinating world of human language.

Language A to Z is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (24 episodes). The series first aired on October 9, 2020.

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Z for Zed
24. Z for Zed
October 9, 2020
Conclude the series with a tribute to the letter Z and the accompanying sound it makes. By exploring the evolution of Z from ancient Phoenicia to medieval England to 19th-century America, you'll discover why this strange, often underappreciated letter is more a part of us than you think.
X for !Xoõ, Y for Yiddish
23. X for !Xoõ, Y for Yiddish
October 9, 2020
Take a quick trip to southern Africa on an investigation of one of a whole group of click languages called the Khoi-San family that could very well be one of Earth's first languages. Then, follow the odd story of the death of a language that actually isn't dying at all: Yiddish.
W for What's Up, Doc?
22. W for What's Up, Doc?
October 9, 2020
Professor McWhorter provides a closer look at slang and its place in language. How did English slang evolve over the centuries, and why does it keep changing? Why do we seem to be using it now more than ever? And what does texting say about the importance of slang today?
V for Vocabulary
21. V for Vocabulary
October 9, 2020
Figuring out what words are, and which ones we want to count as part of our language, is a slippery task that you'll make more sense of here. Specifically, focus on why discussions about vocabulary size mistakenly deal exclusively with written languages, of which there are only about a hundred worldwide.
U for Understand
20. U for Understand
October 9, 2020
Ask. Reveal. Understand. These are just three examples of the habit of turning bare verbs into nouns instead of using an already existing noun with a suffix. Learn why this slangy, sometimes dramatic linguistic habit stems from a logical human quest for order through language maintenance.
T for Tone
19. T for Tone
October 9, 2020
Just as important as the word you're saying is the tone in which you're saying it. But some languages depend on tone much more heavily than English does. Why? How did they emerge, and why did they only cluster in certain places?
S for She
18. S for She
October 9, 2020
Investigate the stories behind pronouns that we currently use or that have fallen out of favor, including she, he, thou, thee, and they. The general story you'll uncover is the same you see with plurals around the world: excessive words that end up being more than we need to communicate.
R for R-lessness
17. R for R-lessness
October 9, 2020
One of the strange things about language: To a large extent, we use it subconsciously. Professor McWhorter offers a panoramic sense of this idea by zeroing in on just one sound, R, and its growing disappearance in British and American English (e.g., pronouncing corner not as cor-ner but caw-nuh).
P for Plurals, Q for Quiz
16. P for Plurals, Q for Quiz
October 9, 2020
Plurals pop up in some languages, while other languages don't care how many things there are. How did we start marking plurals, and how is it possible for languages to work without them? Discover the intriguing answers, and then learn about the possible origins of the odd word quiz.
O for Oldsters in Cartoons
15. O for Oldsters in Cartoons
October 9, 2020
There's a lot to learn about language from cartoons. In this episode, find out how depictions of older people in American cartoons used to reflect the distinction between how people speak in the country versus the city. Also, hear this idea at work through a 1960s study about local accents on Martha's Vineyard.
N for Native American English
14. N for Native American English
October 9, 2020
Delve into the world of pidgin languages: handy linguistic tools that consist of a few hundred words with little grammar. Focus on the Native American Pidgin English that emerged in the 1600s and helped bridge basic communication gaps (without relying on sign language) between English speakers and Native Americans.
M for Maltese
13. M for Maltese
October 9, 2020
See how Maltese, the only Arabic language variety spoken within the European Union, reflects the idea that visual maps of languages aren't always as clear-cut as they seem. In fact, as Professor McWhorter reveals, the classification of languages and dialects can be quite frustrating, and even impossible.
L for Like
12. L for Like
October 9, 2020
Turn now to a topic linguists get asked about a lot: the use of like in conversation among young people. As Professor McWhorter reveals, this popular pet peeve is actually a highly ritualized form of acting and a perfect example of pragmatic particles, which convey attitudes toward what's being said.
K for Ket
11. K for Ket
October 9, 2020
Get an introduction to Ket: one of the world's 6,000 languages you're highly unlikely to hear about beyond Siberia, where it's spoken by just several hundred people (as compared to, say, the 125 million who speak Japanese). It's a fascinating look at just how complex even the tiniest of languages can be.
J for Jamaican
10. J for Jamaican
October 9, 2020
Delve into the world of Jamaican patois, which developed among African slaves in the 1600s as they quickly adopted English. You'll discover that languages vary not just in how they're put together, but according to diverse factors such as socioeconomics and the audience one is speaking to.
I for Island
9. I for Island
October 9, 2020
Use the intriguing backstory of the word island as a gateway for exploring why English spelling can be such a mess. Two specific reasons you'll focus on: the sacred linguistic nature of Latin and Greek, and the ramifications of the Great Vowel Shift, which dramatically altered the pronunciation of many English words.
H for Hobbits
8. H for Hobbits
October 9, 2020
What can hobbits teach us about the actual science involved in linguistics? Find out in this eye-opening episode that introduces you to Homo floresiensis, little people, on the island of Flores, with their own strangely simplified language that some scientists believe was spoken until just a few centuries ago.
G for Greek Alphabet
7. G for Greek Alphabet
October 9, 2020
It's easy to miss just how deeply peculiar an alphabet is. It provides a transcription of language based not on pictures but written representations of sounds. Here, Professor McWhorter takes you back to ancient Greece on an investigation of how the alphabet was invented and (slowly) settled into our consciousness.
F for First Words
6. F for First Words
October 9, 2020
Mama and papa are some of the first words spoken in a majority of the world's languages. Why these first words and not others? As you explore this intriguing subject, you'll also probe some of the theories behind how language starts (involving everything from anatomy to music to mimicked animal calls).
E for Etymology
5. E for Etymology
October 9, 2020
Learn more about etymology, the tool linguists use to decipher the fascinating (and mundane) backstories of words and phrases. For example, you'll explore why eeny, meeny, miney, moe is really about sheep in Great Britain; why quaint originally meant crafty; and why we drink punches as well as throw them.
D for Double Negatives
4. D for Double Negatives
October 9, 2020
Americans have been taught that double negatives are a grammatical no-no. But they're actually used in most of the world's languages. So who's right? And does the substitute any (e.g., not going anywhere versus not going nowhere) solve the problem, or just make it more awkward? Find out here.
C for Compounds
3. C for Compounds
October 9, 2020
We can actually change a word's part of speech simply by moving the accent up front (loudspeaker versus loud speaker). Welcome to the world of compounds, one of the fundamental elements of speaking English. And knowing how they work can also help you determine historical pronunciations of words you weren't around to hear.
B for Baby Mama
2. B for Baby Mama
October 9, 2020
Explore how the common expression baby mama reflects the grammar behind what linguists refer to as African-American Vernacular English (or Ebonics). Along the way, you'll discover how Ebonics emerged as an intriguing mash-up of assorted British regional dialects, along with a sprinkle of grammatical streamlining any language could benefit from.
A for Aramaic
1. A for Aramaic
October 9, 2020
After a brief introduction on why an alphabetic approach makes an engaging way to explore human language, Professor McWhorter provides a close look at one of the ancient world's most influential languages: Aramaic. How did it achieve such prominence? What led to its decline? Where can you hear it today? #Literature & Learning
Where to Watch Language A to Z
Language A to Z is available for streaming on the The Great Courses Signature Collection website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch Language A to Z on demand at Amazon Prime, Amazon and Hoopla.
  • Premiere Date
    October 9, 2020