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Documentaries about Languages

Top 10 Documentaries about Languages

Explore 10 documentaries about Languages that will leave you speechless

Intro: Documentaries about Languages

Language is one of the most fascinating aspects of human culture. For thousands of years, individuals have used it to communicate, express ideas and feelings, learn, teach, and preserve history. Across the globe, a vast number of languages and dialects exist, each unique in its own way. It's estimated that there are more than 7,000 spoken languages in the world today, and many of them are at risk of disappearing entirely.

Documentaries about language explore the many facets and complexities of language, from examining how humans started to speak in the first place, to examining the evolution of the Indo-European languages, to exploring the creation of conlangs (crafted tongues) and even dead languages. These documentaries can also provide a glimpse into how learning languages affects our brains, why it's important to save endangered languages from extinction, and how the development of writing systems and alphabet forms changed over time.

The following documentaries can provide valuable insights into the significance of language and how it shapes human culture and communication. Watch these captivating documentaries and behold the beauty of language and its significance in our world!

1. Alphabet: The Story of Writing pt. 1 and 2 by Donald Jackson - Language Documentaries

In Alphabet: The Story of Writing, viewers are taken back in time to explore the development of letter forms until the 14th century. Part One details the making of letters, beginning with cave paintings and clay/wax tablets and progressing through hieroglyphics, papyrus, and the reed pen before delving into the origin of the alphabet and Roman inscriptions.

In Part Two, the focus shifts to manuscript production from the end of the Roman Empire — from the ‘dark ages’ and the Book of Kells to lowercase development and the quill pen — while also exploring using gold leaf, ink-making and illumination techniques. Watch this video to take a closer look at this historical journey and understand how far we've come in language, art, and communication.

2. Conlanging, The Art of Crafting Tongues (Bonus Documentary) - Documentaries on Languages

This is the companion bonus feature to the documentary film Conlanging, The Art of Crafting Tongues. The full original documentary can be watched here:

For the creative and curious conlanger, Conlanging: The Art of Crafting Tongues is an engaging documentary that explores the art of creating new languages. Featuring David J. Peterson (Dothraki and High Valyrian from Game of Thrones), Marc Okrand (Klingon from Star Trek), David Salo (consultant on Tolkien's languages, particularly Sindarin for Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies), Paul Frommer (creator of Na’vi), and Christine Schreyer (anthropologist at the University of British Columbia who hopes to use conlanging methods on endangered languages), this film delves into the hobby of conlanging with a look at its history and current practitioners. Enter the fascinating world of conlangers and discover the power of language!

3. Long History Documentaries: History of the English Language - Documentaries about Languages

The English language is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, with over 1.5 billion speakers. Its expansive history and use throughout the world has been integral to the development of many countries and cultures, vastly increasing the impact its reach has had on international communication.

The English language originated from Germanic dialects derived from western Germanic tribes, who invaded Britain in the 5th century AD. It began incorporating more Norman French into its vocabulary as a result of William the Conqueror’s invasion of 1066, thus developing an Early Modern English variety.

Over time, additional influences from French, Norse and Latin continued to shape and refine the language into the form we recognize today – Modern English. In the colonies created by Great Britain, including countries like the U.S., Canada and Australia, English became their lingua franca. Additionally, huge trading by Britons in various parts of the world led to further dissemination of the language. As a consequence of globalization, English has become the language of choice for communication. To know the full history of the English Language, watch this documentary!

4. Evolution of the Indo-European Languages - Ancient Civilizations - Languages Documentary

Exploring the evolution of the Indo-European Language family, we can trace its roots and observe the powerful relationships between its constituent languages. By considering this ancient linguistic lineage, seeing this documentary, we can gain an understanding of how a diverse range of languages remain intertwined and connected throughout history.

5. 10 Languages That Have Been Lost to Time - Language Documentary

It has been estimated that, at minimum, 573 dead languages have been cataloged to date. Ten of these, which include Tonkawa, Acadian, Sumerian, Ancient Nubian, Greenlandic Norse, Chicamo, Ancient Egyptian, Xingqiu language, and Bashu are particularly noteworthy for their longevity and cultural significance. Watch this video to know more about these dead languages!

6. When We First Talked - Languages Documentaries

For millions of years, humankind has been evolving our capability to communicate with language, and taking a moment to reflect on this remarkable journey is certainly warranted. Here we are today - tangible evidence of how far our species has come - able to talk in this documentary about the very story of how it was achieved.

7. The Universal Language (Esperanto: La Universala Lingvo)

This 2011 short documentary film, paints an inspiring picture of the Esperanto language and its passionate supporters. Directed by Sam Green, this captivating movie dives deep into the history of Esperanto, supplemented with archive footage and interviews with dedicated Esperantists. Winning the 2012 Ashland Independent Film Festival award for Juried Best Short Documentary, The Universal Language is a must-watch for language aficionados.

8. Why Save a Language - Documentaries on Languages

Directed by Sally Thompson, this powerful film shines a light on the devastating loss of more than half of the 300 indigenous languages found in North America. It explores the inspiring movement to keep these endangered languages alive, with Native people from various tribes sharing their stories and perspectives. Through their deeply personal reflections, we come to understand the immense value of these unique native cultures and why we owe it to them to preserve them for posterity.

Representing languages such as Kainai (Blackfeet), Cuyuse-Walla Walla, Pikuni (Blackfeet), Lakota, Osage, Hidatsa, Yakama, Mandan - Hidatsa, Cayuse-Nez Perce, Couer d'Alene, Elwha Klallam, Mandan, and Wasco, this compelling short film is essential viewing for anyone interested in linguistics, the preservation of Native American Indian languages, and global language conservation.

9. How Does Language Change Your Brain?

Discover the remarkable power of bilingualism! Recent research has revealed that speaking multiple languages can deliver incredible benefits, particularly to your brain – it can even help increase its size! So, why not take the plunge and explore the possibilities of the polyglot life? From boosting memory to sparking creativity, watch this video and embrace the myriad advantages of being a linguistically gifted individual.

10. Whistled language of the island of La Gomera (Canary Islands), the Silbo Gomero

The Silbo Gomero of La Gomera Island in the Canaries is a remarkable-whistled language that has been passed down for generations. It replicates the native tongue (Castilian Spanish) through whistles, comprising two distinct whistles to represent each of the five vowels and four for consonants. With practice, its speakers can communicate any message, including variations that point to their origin.

Fortunately, it's been taught in schools since 1999 and nearly every inhabitant understands and uses it, particularly the elderly and young. As an important part of the island’s intangible cultural heritage, we must continue to focus on the transmission of this unique language, and promote it to those in the islands and beyond.

Conclusions: Documentaries about Languages

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