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5 language TED talks you shouldn’t watch

Are you a TED fan? Who isn’t! I have to admit that my “TEDdiction” sometimes leads me to what I call TED binges: watching a gazillion TED talks in a row.

It is perhaps for people like me that TED has created topical playlists, but I use them only sparingly. There is much more joy involved in compiling your own playlists, and in this post I decided to create one especially for you.

The talks I chose are on the topic of language, and are quite funny—if you like my sense of humour, that is. Are there any other components you need for top-tier entertainment? I don’t think so 😉

Now, because I know you are a rebel and would surely do only what I forbid you here are:

5 TED language talks you shouldn’t watch if…

1. If you don’t want to lose respect for the president of the USA.

We know that words have creative power. In this talk we learn how the word president came to describe the first ruler of the USA, and… how it was George Washington who defined its meaning.

Having authored a few books on English etymology, Mark Forsyth is an (almost) unworldly word expert, who delivers his wisdom with wit, charm, and many curious words!

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2. If you don’t want to boycott English.

Whether English is your first or second language Patricia Ryan will make you question its value. Teaching English, she argues, has moved from being a mutually beneficial practice to being a massive international business. This development doesn’t come without consequences. The boundaries created by standardised language exams can prevent modern day Einsteins from accessing the global education market.

At the end of this talk you may end up shouting: “Down with the TOEFL!”.

3. If you are a grammar nazi.

You may know John McWhorter from books like the Power of Babel and The Language Hoax. In this talk he defends the modern menace of grammatical writing: texting. I have to add: It’ not just texting, but any informal messaging such as the LinguaLift chat!

McWhorter argues that texting is simply reflecting the natural way we all speak, have emerging conventions, and yet insufficiently investigated level complexity. So, prepare to have your inner grammarian challenged!

P.S. I have to confess I also sometime don’t use apostrophes in words such as who’s or that’s when I message… How about I write a whole blog post in text-speech? Lmk if u wud like 2 c this!

4. If you are fighting your word addiction.

Have you ever come up with your own word? Sometimes I’d start saying one word and then combine it with another creating weird combinations like sping —speak and sing, you know… like preachers do—, or sappy—a much better alternative to happy-sad. I still wonder how come my wonderful creations didn’t become “real” words*.

In this talk Ann Curzan enters the minds of dictionary editors, explains how words get approved and asks the question: if it’s not in a dictionary, does it mean we don’t know what it is?

This talk will only foster your passion for words. Avoid at all costs if you want to reclaim your life.

*feel free to use them, perhaps we can make them enter the dictionaries!

5. If you want to keep your faith in human linguistic creativity.

“Oh! Kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!/ You really are beautiful!”

If you had to analyse poetry in your literature classes, I’m sure you came across “pearls” like these and thought: who in the right mind has created it? Well, the evil being contributing to the demise of your grades could have been pretty mindless.

In this talk Oscar Schwartz shows us that computer algorithms are perfectly capable of creating poetry indistinguishable from the human one. And I’d say, it’s sometimes even better.

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