Language Families of the World

Watch Language Families of the World

  • 2019
  • 1 Season

Language Families of the World is an educational show that explores the diverse range of languages spoken around the globe. This informative and engaging series is presented by John McWhorter, a renowned linguistic scholar with a passion for languages and their evolution.

Throughout the series, McWhorter takes viewers on a fascinating journey through the diversity of languages, tracing their roots and exploring their connections. As he explains, languages can be grouped into families based on their similarities, which provide a window into the past and the shared history of humankind.

The show is divided into twenty-four episodes, each focusing on a different language family. McWhorter introduces the family, explains its defining features, shares some common words and phrases in the language(s) of the family, and delves into the history and culture of its speakers. The families covered include the Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic, Austronesian, Uralic, Dravidian, and many others.

One of the highlights of the show is McWhorter's ability to explain complex linguistic concepts in a clear and accessible way. With his approachable and engaging style, he brings the subject to life, making it easy for viewers to comprehend and appreciate the intricacies of language evolution. He also provides fascinating insights into the ways that language reflects and shapes society, culture, and identity.

Another highlight of Language Families of the World is its focus on linguistic diversity. McWhorter emphasizes the importance of preserving endangered languages, which carry unique knowledge and perspectives that would be lost if they disappear. He also highlights the role of language in fostering cross-cultural understanding and celebrates the richness and diversity of human communication.

Overall, Language Families of the World is a fascinating and eye-opening exploration of linguistics and culture. John McWhorter's enthusiasm and expertise make the show both informative and enjoyable. Whether you are a language enthusiast or just curious about the world around you, this series is sure to broaden your horizons and deepen your understanding of the importance of language.

Language Families of the World is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (33 episodes). The series first aired on February 1, 2019.

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Language Families and Writing Systems
34. Language Families and Writing Systems
February 1, 2019
What do writing systems tell us about language? Better understand why writing actually tells us more about human ingenuity in communication than it tells us about spoken language. Close with a consideration of the cultural importance of language, its preservation and loss, and the realities of a more linguistically homogeneous future.
What Do Genes Say about Language Families?
33. What Do Genes Say about Language Families?
February 1, 2019
The idiosyncrasies that show up in DNA allow us to trace back to common ancestors, much like language traits allow us to chart language-family relationships. Take a look at the concept of glottochronology and see what linguistic theories have been confirmed by genetics in places like Europe, India, and Polynesia.
How Far Back Can We Trace Languages?
32. How Far Back Can We Trace Languages?
February 1, 2019
Embark on a quest that some believe may be impossible: tracing the relationships between the macro language families. See how the pursuit of evidence connecting the language families is complicated by time, accidental similarities, lost languages, and more, as you also look at several plausible theories that could offer solutions.
Languages Caught between Families
31. Languages Caught between Families
February 1, 2019
The line between different language families is often blurred. Languages from different families that have been brought together can create a hybrid that belongs to both, and every combination happens in different ways and to varying degrees. Look at several examples of this phenomenon (which even includes English).
The Original American Languages III
29. The Original American Languages III
January 1, 1970
Continue your journey through the languages of North America, including a language that uses no sounds that require the lips to touch. As you look at the unique grammatical features of languages across the continent, you'll also consider what happens when languages die out and their complexities are lost to future generations.
The Original American Languages II
28. The Original American Languages II
June 1, 2020
Zoom in on some of the larger families of North America and gain valuable insight into what they can tell us about language in general. You'll get the chance to examine languages that are on the brink of extinction today, see which languages have contributed words currently used in American English, and more.
The Original American Languages I
27. The Original American Languages I
February 1, 2019
Like Australia, North America was home to at least 300 distinct languages before English became dominant. Professor McWhorter takes you through some of the theories linguists have regarding the relationship of various Native American languages and the origins of humans and their varieties of speech on the North American continent.
The Languages of Australia II
26. The Languages of Australia II
June 1, 2020
Continue your examination of the languages of Australia, including the first Australian language to be documented by Europeans. Many of these languages present a case study in language obsolescence (as English dominates the continent) and language mixture (the emergence of creole languages due to European contact).
The Languages of Australia I
25. The Languages of Australia I
February 1, 2019
Once the home of over 250 languages, Australia now only has about a dozen languages that will be passed to sizable generations of children. Take a look at some of the over two dozen language families in Australia and better understand how both separation from a common ancestor and proximity to a different language will cause a language to change in different ways.
Why Are There So Many Languages in New Guinea?
24. Why Are There So Many Languages in New Guinea?
June 1, 2020
Turn your attention to one of the most linguistically rich places on Earth: the island of New Guinea, and discover why, thanks to its history and isolating terrain, it is home to hundreds of languages in a relatively small area. See how pronouns allow linguists to find connections between these languages, and explore some of their unusual traits.
Creole Languages
23. Creole Languages
February 1, 2019
Since all languages come from one original language, technically no one language is older than another. However, when two languages are forced into proximity, often a makeshift fusion of the two can emerge as a new language, known as a creole. Learn how a hierarchical, stopgap form of communication can become a true language.
Siberia and Beyond: Language Isolates
22. Siberia and Beyond: Language Isolates
February 1, 2019
How do some languages end up isolated amidst other unrelated families? Look at pockets of language in Siberia, Spain, and Japan that are not related to those that surround them and better understand what the nature of language (and human migration and settlement patterns) can tell us about these unique places.
Languages of the South Seas II
21. Languages of the South Seas II
June 1, 2020
The languages of Polynesia are estimated to be some of the newest languages in the world, emerging only in the last millennium. Look back to the earliest cultures of the Polynesian islands to see how the languages likely originated and were disseminated, branching into separate sub-groups like Oceanic and the three that are all spoken on the small island of Formosa.
Languages of the South Seas I
20. Languages of the South Seas I
February 1, 2019
Journey to the South Seas to begin an investigation into Austronesian, one of the world's largest and most widespread language families. See what connects Austronesian languages to other families, as well as how they differ from European languages, and trace the way Austronesian languages have spread across far-flung locations.
Southeast Asian Languages: The Sinosphere
19. Southeast Asian Languages: The Sinosphere
February 1, 2019
How can languages that have very different origins still seem to be structurally related? To find out, look at the concept of a Sprachbrund and understand why contact is just as influential as origin when it comes to resemblances between otherwise unrelated languages (in this case, the influence of Chinese on other Asian languages).
Chinese's Family Circle: Sino-Tibetan
18. Chinese's Family Circle: Sino-Tibetan
February 1, 2019
Chinese is one branch of the Sino-Tibetan family and the other branch, Tibeto-Burman, consists of around 400 languages spoken in southern China, northeastern India, and Burma. Look at features of languages from both branches and see what linguists can assume about the proto-language from which they may have sprung.
The Languages We Call Chinese
17. The Languages We Call Chinese
February 1, 2019
Explore the Asian languages beyond Japanese and Korean, looking into several families along the way. See why Mandarin and Cantonese, though both considered Chinese, are a classic example of two different languages being mistaken for dialects, thanks in part to a shared writing system and cultural proximity.
Japanese and Korean: Alike yet Unrelated
16. Japanese and Korean: Alike yet Unrelated
February 1, 2019
Are Japanese and Korean part of the Altaic family? They share some features of the other Altaic languages, yet some linguists believe they are separate. Take a brief foray through the fascinating Japanese writing system as you look deeper into the language. Then, turn to Korean, comparing and contrasting it with Japanese and other Asian languages.
Languages of the Silk Road and Beyond
15. Languages of the Silk Road and Beyond
February 1, 2019
The languages called Altaic are spoken across Asia, from Turkey through Mongolia and to northeastern regions of Asia. Understand why there is some debate among linguists as to whether they comprise one family or are made of three separate ones as you look at how these languages function, including nuances like a mood known as evidentiality.
Indian Languages That Aren't Indo-European
14. Indian Languages That Aren't Indo-European
February 1, 2019
The Big Four languages (and many others) of southern India are not part of the Indo-European family but rather the Dravidian. Look at what the distribution of Dravidian languages says about where they come from and how they got where they are now (including some languages on the brink of extinction) and explore some of their unique features.
What Is a Caucasian Language?
13. What Is a Caucasian Language?
February 1, 2019
Named for the Caucasus mountains where they originate, the Caucasian languages are actually three different families: Northwestern, Northeastern, and a Southern one that includes Georgian. Explore these grammatically complex languages to better understand how they work and how so many different varieties can spring from a relatively small area.
How to Identify a Language Family
12. How to Identify a Language Family
February 1, 2019
How do linguists establish connections between languages and determine their common roots when it is nearly impossible to see a language change in real time? Take a look at the languages of Polynesia to see how changes can be followed backwards to reveal connections between different languages, then turn to the Indo-European and Uralic families.
Is the Indo-European Family Alone in Europe?
11. Is the Indo-European Family Alone in Europe?
February 1, 2019
Meet the other family of languages in Europe: Uralic, which includes Estonian, Finnish, and Hungarian. Eccentric and tidy at the same time, this family stretches across the north of Europe and into Russia and parts of Asia. See why Turkish was once thought to be part of this family and how Uralic languages differ from Indo-European and others.
Nilo-Saharan: Africa's Hardest Languages?
10. Nilo-Saharan: Africa's Hardest Languages?
February 1, 2019
Afro-Asiatic languages are prevalent in the north of the African continent, and Niger-Congo in the south, with a narrow band of a third family running between: Nilo-Saharan. The Nilo-Saharan languages are immensely different from each other, so how do linguists know they are related? Examine the unique features of this family.
Languages of the Fertile Crescent and Beyond II
9. Languages of the Fertile Crescent and Beyond II
June 1, 2020
Move beyond the Semitic languages to look at other subfamilies of Afro-Asiatic, including what some call the Berber subfamily and several other subfamilies spoken south of the Sahara, and see what they can teach us about the nature of language. Close with a look at Somali oral poetry and its complex use of alliteration.
Languages of the Fertile Crescent and Beyond I
8. Languages of the Fertile Crescent and Beyond I
February 1, 2019
Follow the migration of peoples from Africa to the Middle East by looking at the language family that developed in the Fertile Crescent: Afro-Asiatic. This first look at this family focuses on the widely known Semitic branch, which includes Arabic and Hebrew. Examine what defines this group of languages and uncover the roots of the first alphabets.
Niger-Congo: Largest Family in Africa II
7. Niger-Congo: Largest Family in Africa II
June 1, 2020
Look closer at some of the unique aspects of the Niger-Congo family, including the use of tone, and see how different languages can spring from the same original materials. Since the work of classifying languages is ongoing, you may be surprised to see how many can develop in proximity and share words but be part of different groups altogether.
Niger-Congo: The Biggest Family in Africa I
6. Niger-Congo: The Biggest Family in Africa I
February 1, 2019
The Niger-Congo family consists of anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 different languages. While they are part of the same family, they do not adhere to an identified pattern like Indo-European. What links this immense family together? What is the essence of the Niger-Congo? What can these languages tell us about migration patterns? Explore these questions and more.
The Click Languages
5. The Click Languages
February 1, 2019
Shift from Indo-European to some of the most endangered languages in the world: the click languages, formally known as Khoisan. Spoken in southern Africa, these endangered languages share a distinctive profile, and yet likely did not all come from a single family. Explore where they may have begun and how they work.
Indo-European Languages in Asia
4. Indo-European Languages in Asia
June 1, 2020
One-fifth to one-sixth of the world speaks one of the Indo-European languages of India. Trace back to the branching of the Indo-European tree, when the European languages split from the Indo-Aryan varieties like Sanskrit that would become Hindi and others. Explore many variations that evolved and see why it can be so difficult to differentiate between a language and a dialect.
Indo-European Languages in Europe
3. Indo-European Languages in Europe
February 1, 2019
Begin a deep dive into the earliest roots of Indo-European languages with a look at Germanic, Romance, Balto-Slavic, Greek, Albanian, and Celtic languages. See how Indo-European languages contradict common notions about how language works and uncover some of the mysteries that are yet to be solved.
The First Family Discovered: Indo-European
2. The First Family Discovered: Indo-European
February 1, 2019
While the Indo-European family of languages was not the first group to be identified as related, it is the family that has received much of the research and classification that became the basis of modern linguistics. Uncover what defines Indo-European languages, which include Latin, English, French, Armenian, Latvian, Sanskrit, and many more.
Why Are There So Many Languages?
1. Why Are There So Many Languages?
February 1, 2019
There are over 7,000 languages in the world and many linguists believe they likely all developed from a single source language in the distant past. Get an introduction to the concept of language families, understand how languages change over time, and discover what linguistics can teach us about our own history. #Literature & Learning
Where to Watch Language Families of the World
Language Families of the World is available for streaming on the The Great Courses Signature Collection website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch Language Families of the World on demand at Apple TV Channels and Amazon Prime and Amazon.
  • Premiere Date
    February 1, 2019