Language Families of the World

Course No. 2235
Professor John McWhorter, Ph.D.
Columbia University
Share This Course
4.7 out of 5
101 Reviews
81% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 2235
Streaming Included Free

What Will You Learn?

  • numbers How languages take shape, evolve, branch out-and even how they die.
  • numbers The linguistic ingenuity that has created over 7,000 languages worldwide and how languages differ as well as what they share.
  • numbers The ways history, geography, topography, sociology, and other factors intersect via language.

Course Overview

Language, in its seemingly infinite variety, tells us who we are and where we come from. Many linguists believe that all of the world’s languages—over 7,000 currently—emerged from a single, prehistoric source. While experts have not yet been able to reproduce this proto-language, most of the world’s current languages can be traced to various language families that have branched and divided, spreading across the globe with migrating humans and evolving over time.

In Language Families of the World, Professor John McWhorter of Columbia University takes you back through time and around the world, following the linguistic trails left by generations of humans that lead back to the beginnings of language. Utilizing historical theories and cutting-edge research, these 34 astonishing lectures will introduce you to the major language families of the world and their many offspring, including a variety of languages that are no longer spoken but provide vital links between past and present.

An Incomplete Family Tree

The English language comes from the immense family known as Indo-European, a group that has been traced and reconstructed perhaps most thoroughly of all the language families. In fact, it is the extensive study of this family that essentially built the foundations of formal linguistic science. Other language families, like the Niger-Congo, the Afro-Asiatic, and Austronesian families, are becoming more and more known through study, but there is still a long way to go to uncover the earliest foundations of the families that comprise the thousands of languages spoken around the world today.

Professor McWhorter demonstrates how, through a combination of the known and the unknown, of tangible evidence and shifting hypotheses, linguists trace and reconstruct languages. It’s often a tangled and complex undertaking, with many theories taking root before being reevaluated—or disproven altogether. As you better understand the methods linguists use and the ideas they have developed, you will explore a host of fascinating questions, including:

  • How are similarities in languages determined?
  • Why do some languages seem related but are not, while others that appear fundamentally different are actually part of the same family?
  • What is the effect of geography—and even topography—on language?
  • Who determines the difference between a language and a dialect?
  • When does a language “officially” split into separate ones?

Filling in the Blanks of Language

As in life, the one constant in language is change. Even looking back just some hundreds of years, what we know as Middle English is barely intelligible to contemporary English speakers. Thanks to many similarities and the volume of writing that exists between the days of Chaucer’s English and now, the transition can be fairly easy to trace. However, since not every language has a clear, uninterrupted line of progression or a written record to follow through the ages, how do linguists reconstruct older languages? How do they identify a language family?

As Professor McWhorter explains: “The fundamental trait of a language family is that linguists can posit a proto-language from which the modern languages developed via regular sound changes.” This is easiest to do with groups of languages that are relatively new and thus still share a lot of features. Professor McWhorter uses the languages of Polynesia to illustrate this kind of reconstruction in its simplest form before turning to the more complicated ways linguists fill in the blanks with languages that have changed over longer periods and spread over vast distances.

Sometimes, as with the Indo-European family, there are copious written records to help cover the gaps, but often it is a matter of using core words and cognates to make the necessary connections. Like detectives, linguists must follow the clues they are given and throughout these lectures you will be able to follow the process like Watson to Professor McWhorter’s Sherlock Holmes. Along the way, you will look at language through many linguistic lenses, such as:

  • Structure and parts of words, like roots, stems, prefixes, and suffixes (morphology);
  • How sounds are organized in language (phonology);
  • The history and origin of particular words (etymology);
  • Word order and arrangement (syntax);
  • The meaning and implications of words (semantics), and many more.

If language change makes it so difficult for linguists to make clear connections between past and present, it is important to understand the nature of those changes, as well as how those changes both help and hinder investigation. Languages experience change for many reasons, including:

  • Time. Every generation alters the language(s) they inherit, through both the addition of new words and structures and the gradual erosion and extinction of others as cultures and societies change.
  • Distance. The farther away groups of speakers become, the more linguistic changes crop up between their “versions” of the language. Sometimes this results in dialects, other times in completely new languages.
  • Contact. Two unrelated languages thrown into proximity will sometimes create a mix of the two and can evolve into a new language altogether, or the influence of a dominant language can create a linguistic area with many shared characteristics among several languages.
  • Force. Sometimes—often as the result of war, colonialism, or invasion—languages can be forced to change to fit a new reality or go extinct altogether.

Languages Past, Present, and Future

Languages like Chinese, Spanish, English, Arabic, Hindi, and Russian are some of the most widely spoken in the world and have been extensively studied. They can all provide deep insight into the nature of language and how it can change over time. Yet they are only a very small fraction of the immense number of languages and dialects you will encounter as you tour the world via linguistics. Following the trails of language across land and sea with Professor McWhorter will allow you to trace migration patterns and social contact between different peoples, as well as better understand important aspects of history and geography that continue to evolve and influence the world we live in today.

Utilizing maps, graphics, photographs, and a plethora of written examples and illustrations, Language Families of the World makes the complex and ever-changing world of language an engaging journey. From the “click” languages of sub-Saharan Africa and the little-known languages of New Guinea to the shrinking varieties of Native American grammar and the isolated Basque tongue in the heart of Europe, you will encounter an astonishing range of languages. Through them, you will reveal amazing facets of speech that defy conventional wisdom and demonstrate the immense range of human linguistic ingenuity.

While most animals communicate in some form, language—complete with grammar, syntax, dialects, vocabulary, and so much more—appears to be a uniquely human trait. When we understand not just the nuts and bolts but the extensive history and cultural power of language, we better understand ourselves, as well as the world and the people we share it with.

Hide Full Description
34 lectures
 |  Average 28 minutes each
  • 1
    Why Are There So Many Languages?
    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. x
  • 2
    The First Family Discovered: Indo-European
    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. x
  • 3
    Indo-European Languages in Europe
    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. x
  • 4
    Indo-European Languages in Asia
    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. x
  • 5
    The Click Languages
    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. x
  • 6
    Niger-Congo: Largest Family in Africa I
    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. x
  • 7
    Niger-Congo: Largest Family in Africa II
    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 on-going, you may be surprised to see how many can develop in proximity and share words but be part of different groups altogether. x
  • 8
    Languages of the Fertile Crescent and Beyond I
    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. x
  • 9
    Languages of the Fertile Crescent and Beyond II
    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. x
  • 10
    Nilo-Saharan: Africa's Hardest Languages?
    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. x
  • 11
    Is the Indo-European Family Alone in Europe?
    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. x
  • 12
    How to Identify a Language Family
    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. x
  • 13
    What Is a Caucasian Language?
    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. x
  • 14
    Indian Languages That Aren't Indo-European
    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. x
  • 15
    Languages of the Silk Road and Beyond
    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.” x
  • 16
    Japanese and Korean: Alike yet Unrelated
    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. x
  • 17
    The Languages We Call Chinese
    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. x
  • 18
    Chinese's Family Circle: Sino-Tibetan
    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. x
  • 19
    Southeast Asian Languages: The Sinosphere
    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. x
  • 20
    Languages of the South Seas I
    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. x
  • 21
    Languages of the South Seas II
    The languages of Polynesia are estimated to be some of the newest languages in the world, emerging only in the last millenium. 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. x
  • 22
    Siberia and Beyond: Language Isolates
    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. x
  • 23
    Creole Languages
    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. x
  • 24
    Why Are There So Many Languages in New Guinea?
    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. x
  • 25
    The Languages of Australia I
    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. x
  • 26
    The Languages of Australia II
    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). x
  • 27
    The Original American Languages I
    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. x
  • 28
    The Original American Languages II
    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 will 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. x
  • 29
    The Original American Languages III
    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 will also consider what happens when languages die out and their complexities are lost to future generations. x
  • 30
    The Original American Languages IV
    Follow Native American migrations to encounter the language families that moved south to take root in Central and South America. From a language variety that incorporates whistling to some with object-subject-verb word order—and even one that resulted from a mass kidnapping—you will experience a range of fascinating linguistic developments. x
  • 31
    Languages Caught between Families
    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). x
  • 32
    How Far Back Can We Trace Languages?
    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. x
  • 33
    What Do Genes Say about Language Families?
    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—as well as some surprises. x
  • 34
    Language Families and Writing Systems
    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. x

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Ability to download 34 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
Instant Audio Includes:
  • Ability to download 34 audio lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 34 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 184-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 184-page printed course guidebook
  • Questions and Answers
  • Photos and Illustrations
  • Suggested Readings

Enjoy This Course On-the-Go with Our Mobile Apps!*

  • App store App store iPhone + iPad
  • Google Play Google Play Android Devices
  • Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Tablet + Firephone
*Courses can be streamed from anywhere you have an internet connection. Standard carrier data rates may apply in areas that do not have wifi connections pursuant to your carrier contract.

Your professor

John McWhorter

About Your Professor

John McWhorter, Ph.D.
Columbia University
Dr. John McWhorter is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He previously was Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned his B.A. from Rutgers University, his M.A. from New York University, and his Ph.D. in Linguistics from Stanford University. Professor McWhorter specializes in language change and language contact. He is the author of...
Learn More About This Professor
Also By This Professor


Language Families of the World is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 101.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Course Amazingly well done! The content is excellent, couldn't be better. I speak two languages and have always been interested in how different languages convey information. This course gives the answers, even for click languages and tonal languages. Prof. McWhorter accomplishes all this in a stimulating and humorous way. An amazing course, one of the best the Teaching Company offers.
Date published: 2020-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very well done! Prof. McWhorter has a firm grasp of his subject matter, and explains it in clear, easily-understood terms. His speaking voice is pleasant and unhurried, without being halting or hesitating. I've taken several of his courses, and have enjoyed them all.
Date published: 2020-06-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Bunch of disjointed factoids I I wanted to like this course – but could not. Dr. McWorter gives what appear to be a bunch of random factoids probably useful for someone during trivia night at their local bar. Case in point: we learn that Greek uses different words for "wine" in spoken and written forms. That factoid is pretty much all he says about the structure of the Greek language. I was highly surprised – and dismayed – by his breezy and inaccurate comments regarding the Tocharians in lesson three. He seems to imply that they were Celts bebopping around China. But - no. The Tocharians spoke a Centum language – of which Celtic is one - but they weren’t speaking Celtic, and we know of them from one relatively small area in China – the Tarim Desert basin (China is a big place). His description was misleading at best.
Date published: 2020-06-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Language Families of the World The course "Language Families of the World" is an excellent introduction to the linguistic study of the relatedness of languages everywhere. Although anthropologists and linguists have documented many thousands of languages around the planet, they all share similar complexity and almost certainly have points of common origin. Dr. McWhorter's conversational style and sense of humor make this daunting topic approachable and relatable, a joy to follow. I recommend it to any student of humanity and its cultures.
Date published: 2020-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from the best! A wonderfully entertaining and informative course. I daily sent interesting tidbits from Professor McWhoter's lectures to friends and siblings. I so much wanted to share my delight with them.
Date published: 2020-06-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Some good points, but basically disappointing I had bought this DVD based on my viewing experience with Story of Human Language (excellent course). This course, however, was very disappointing. The professor sat through the entire course and his main input was pronouncing weird languages. The only interesting segments were concerning possible links between language and genetics.
Date published: 2020-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from World Class! (Pun Intended) I have 3 Great Courses DVD sets by John McWhorter -- all excellent, but this one is his best. Teaching language development in the context of recent findings about human cultures and migrations is a brilliant idea. I teach this stuff myself, and I am learning so much from this course!
Date published: 2020-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining and educated professor Professor John McWhorton uses humor and gives examples from all over the world of languages, giving extensive examples of language and culture and the differences and similarities between languages.
Date published: 2020-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting course. I learned a lot about tjhe complexity of languages---and quite a bit of history as well
Date published: 2020-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great if you like languages I found this course fascinating! But then I am an amateur lingisticist. I have seen both of John McWhorter's courses on the English language and Lingistics. It may sound dull, but McWhorter's unique brand of humor can make even the mass of details about languages, well-known and little-known even in the most remote parts of the world, an interesting subject. I would recommend to anyone interested in languages and how they develop, change (sometimes daily), are used in various cultures. If you aren't interested in linguists, forget it; McWhorter mentions the response he sometimes get when people's eyes roll back in their heads. But I loved it!
Date published: 2020-04-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too fast The course kept giving examples which did not seem to focus on the theme. Very confusing
Date published: 2020-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best set of lectures I have ever heard I have been lucky in my life to be able to travel the world, live on 4 continents and been to 6. I picked up Spanish and French and could read a Japanese menu. I have always be fascinated with languages. Always loved the Berlitz language pocket guides that taught how to ask "What is your name" on page 1 and how to say "I love you" in on page 2. His presentation style is outstanding. He sits on a stool with almost a folksy style. As he took me around the geographic and language world, I felt I was hearing some one in total command of the subject of the lecture. Each of the lectures provide not only insight in a language family (or subfamily), he interlaces it with insights into various controveries among linguistists and anecdotal stories from his personal experiences with some of the general public's misconceptions. They are humorous and only reinforce the material being presented. No stuttering, hesitation, looking at notes, turning pages, hums and haws. Just someone in total command of what is to be explored and said in the lecture. He just comes across as someone that your would want to come to dinner and hear him talk all night. I learned a great deal and had more than a few laughs. As I reached lecture 28 and crossed the Bering Strait, I was starting to get depressed as there were only 6 more lectures to go. By lecture 34, I had to convince myself to move on. Great experince and sad that it had to end. If I wasn't a 65 year old grumpy old man, I would go to Columbia and try to get a PhD in linguistics with him as my advisor. Great Presentation, excellent production, directing and editting. Really class act.
Date published: 2020-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Delightfully Informative I chose this course because I enjoyed his earlier one. I have to say I learn more than I needed or wanted to know about language families, but McQuarters style is so delightfully entertaining that I could not stop listening until I got to the end.
Date published: 2020-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous! I'm not sure how much I'll recall most of the details in this course over time. I suspect not much. The good professor spent considerable time using and comparing specific, multiple words to show relationships of languages within their families. He then moved from region to region and did the very same thing in each. This probably doesn't sound like the beginning of an extremely positive review. Yet, this will be an extremely positive review! First, the professor is brilliant, hilarious, and incredibly insightful. It's always a good thing to have a professor one really enjoys, right? Perhaps the feature of his teaching that I liked best, and found quite valuable, was the humor he frequently brought to bear. I say "valuable" because the humor served significantly to relate many of the specific points he made about language to bigger and broader things - culture or history or society or people. This leads to the second great virtue of the course. What I liked most was the way in which McWhorter used language to help us understand the flow of culture, too. He taught directly (and superbly) about the nature, development, and flow of languages. What causes language to develop, change, affect other languages, thrive or decline, etc.? But, more indirectly, through language, he also taught about the ways in which people move, develop, thrive or decline, adapt, and perhaps spread in places they inhabit. This evolution of societies, in other words, is, I think, an important underlying subject, with language, of course, being the top line and focus. Bottom line: even for people who are primarily interested in history, sociology, or culture, this course on language families and the development of language is very beneficial in that it helps widen one's understanding of the world. Bravo to the professor. I don't give many five stars. Happily, I found a good reason to do so here.
Date published: 2020-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting! Would love to invite McWhorter, the lecturer over for dinner and a long talk about his subject. We’ve all known lecturers who can put folks to sleep. Not this one. He speaks with enthusiasm and the ability to kindle enthusiasm in his listener. Heartily recommend.
Date published: 2020-01-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good video, easy to understand speaker Very interesting and informative course. similarity and diversity of languages
Date published: 2020-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Language Families I listened to this last month. It was not only enjoyable but I learned so much. He went into families of families from the click to Indo European to Asian. I had never seen such a complete summary of this topic.
Date published: 2020-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not a topic that particularly interested me but... I really like how Professor McWhorter presents what should be a fairly dull topic. I expected a lot of information and very little "interesting" information. Nope, he kept it interesting THE WHOLE TIME.
Date published: 2020-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging! I was given this course as a gift. Although I am only three lectures into the series, I have to say that I find Professor McWhorter's style engaging. His style is casual, but informative, and I enjoy the conversational delivery and examples. While my own background is in foreign language and I, myself, am a language geek, McWhorter's course has already delivered on the interests which led me to request this course when someone was asking for a Christmas list. It's undeniable that this course and its content will NOT be everyone's cup of tea; but if you possess a linguistic bent and etymology is your thing, you will REALLY enjoy this one.
Date published: 2019-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Instructor This professor has spent his whole life studying languages from all over the world. His knowledge is easily shared with you as you travel the world. One of the best courses offered from the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2019-12-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Great features, but defective DVD. This is the third course on linguistics I have bought. The course is good, but as soon as I started watching it, the first DVD has defects and would not play properly. I need a replacement.
Date published: 2019-12-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very tempting title for a course. I have always had an interest in how languages work and how they relate to each other. This course feeds both interest heartily. There was exposure to many families, their mechanics, their histories and relationships. Dr. McWhorter teaches linguistic concepts that crop up in a very easily comprehensible, non-pedantic manner. This course was so fascinating to me that I finished it online before the DVD arrived at my home. One minor criticism . . . Dr. McWhorter does need to brush up on Celtic philology as he did make a couple of mistakes interpreting orthography of these languages as having equivalent values to English orthography. Still, loved the whole course, beginning to end! Thank you, Dr. McWhorter for this taste feast of the world's tongues!
Date published: 2019-12-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Speaker I've always wondered about the evolution of language. Given we're all the same species with the same basic vocal cords how did we develop so many languages. I bought this course to see what I could find out about it. The professor doesn't really explain why if language started with our species way back when there are so many different, very different, words for the same thing. But as the title implies he does give a very extensive explanation of the different language families, where they are spoken and some details of each. Best of all he's a very engaging speaker who also throws in a goodly amount of humor and personal experience which makes his lectures quite enjoyable. And, very welcomed in this age of teleprompters, he doesn't read his lecture he speaks as if he's just conversing with you and sharing his knowledge.
Date published: 2019-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Instructor Very pleasently surprised. Even though Dr McWhorter has written for the NYT and WaPo, unlike many instructors, he doesn't preach within a subject that gives him many oportunities to do so. He teaches with a more colloquial style than most instructors. Most enjoyable course I've seen. I had a brief intro to this in high school about 60 years ago. I got this course mostly out of curiousity but wound up learning a lot. For example, because Turkey and Iran are predominantly Moslum and use the same form of writting as Arabic, I was surprise how different the languages (and culture) are from each other and from Arabic. Likewise I was surprised to see how different the languages and cultures in Africa are along with the lack of historical relation between Swahili and Kwanza have with American black culture. Dr McWhiorter's personal comments are just as interesting as the subject material and I found his comment on the pronunciation of "often" interesting.
Date published: 2019-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I wish it were longer Language Families of the World has 34 lectures (if I may use that word) but I wish it was twice as long. Dr. McWhorter has a way of speaking that makes the subject come alive and lively, I envy his knowledge and ability to create the sounds of so many different languages, language families, and sub-families. I can honestly report that I did not 100% understand all he said (and I plan to listen to some of the lectures again to help me comprehend) but I thoroughly enjoyed what he said and his sometimes witty and sometimes personal asides. He often spoke of meeting people at parties and telling others what he did and how. Oh how I wish I could be at one if those parties, Language Families of the World is a GREAT course conducted by a GREAT linguist, Bravo! Money well spent!
Date published: 2019-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from thank you so much!!!! Professor McWorther: I have bought every single course series you have made for the teaching Co. I have learned so much! your expertise is outstanding, not to mention your witt and humor. I actually re-listen to your lecturers, always to find some new information. although I am a physician by trade, languages are my passion. I also want to congratulate you on your perfecgt pronouncation of Russian words (which I speak) and Polish words (where I am from originally); the experience is stupendous; I absorb every piece of information! I have listened to you for over 15 years and cannot stop! Keep going!
Date published: 2019-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just what I was interested in learning about. I am enjoying the course. Every lecture is interesting and the flow from one topic to another makes sense. There are all kinds of odd facts mentioned. I can't wait to sitr down to watch the next video.
Date published: 2019-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enjoyable I have always loved languages, and this answers some questions I've had for many decades, ever since I won a science fair with an essay on language families. Dr McWhorter is both knowledgeable and entertaining. I am a fan.
Date published: 2019-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better Than I Expected: Boring Stuff Made Fun Quick! How many languages exist in the world? A hundred? Five hundred? A thousand? If 6000 to 7000 surprises you, you probably want this course. If the caveat "But we still don't know for sure" intrigues you, then you definitely want this course. There is a reason Professor McWhorter is a sought-after commentator on NPR and television. He's witty, fluent, funny, and more coherent than (sorry colleagues, you know it's true) most professional linguists. This course is a very entertaining and fascinating overview of the major language families of the world. Professor McWhorter highlights some of the quirks and oddities found in other languages -- whose speakers of course do not consider them quirky or odd at all, but no doubt have some things to say about English. There is one caution. The best communicators are rarely also the most knowledgable. This is not news to anyone. There is no greater science communicator than Neil DeGrasse Tyson. But ask him, "Dr. Tyson, is there anyone alive who knows more about astrophysics than you do?" and I promise you he will rattle off a dozen names in alphabetical order without pausing to think. Professor McWhorter is a fantastic communicator. He can explain very complicated things in very easy-to-understand terms. But if you work in linguistics, or know some of the foreign languages he surveys (especially Arabic and Estonian), you're going to have more than one "Hey, that's not right!" moment. What concerns me is how easily these could have been avoided. I get that Professor McWhorter doesn't claim to know any but a handful of the languages he covers. He's very clear that he's studied Hebrew but not Arabic. Fine. But how far would he have to walk from his office at Columbia University to find an Arabic professor? Something as simple as... McWHORTER: Here are my slides on showing the similarities between Semitic Languages. For example, the word for "all" is "kol" in Hebrew and "hullu" in Arabic... COLLEAGUE: No, it's actually "kull" in Arabic. McWHORTER: Wait, with a K? Not an H? COLLEAGUE: With a K. And you don't need that final -u. It's just a case marker, it's not really part of the word. McWHORTER: So "kol" in Hebrew and "kull" in Arabic? That's even better. And it will save me pausing to explain the similarity between H and K and spare me being fictionally quoted by some guy writing a Great Courses Review. Thanks! Likewise, a Finnish professor could have had a look at his slides and corrected his spelling, maybe even stopped him from using letters that Finnish doesn't even have. Another concern. Professor McWhorter rightly calls out the absurdity of trying to re-create a "Proto-World," or first-ever human language. But he is all too receptive to the equally loopy Nostratic idea. Nostratic -- the attempted recreation of a language spoken about 15-17 thousand years ago -- arose in the Soviet Union at a time when Russia was cut off from the rest of the world and its scientists left without access to international academia. (Yes, Professor McWhorter, that is why every Nostraticist you meet "seems to have a Slavic accent.") In this unchecked environment, injected with a heavy dose of Marxist theory about the predictability of history, there arose the notion that you can not only recreate the parent language of Russian and English and French and many others, but you can then link that ancestor to the ancestors of Hebrew and Turkish and Tamil and many others. Professor McWhorter portrays those who dismiss Nostraticism as snobs, and I admit his voice for them is very funny. But it really isn't a theory worth entertaining, not because it is false but because it is hopelessly unproveable. Without any written or sound record, there is only so far we can speculate. There are too many ways language can change, the possibilities branching and multiplying in too many directions. We're spoiled because Indo-European has a rich recorded history and abundant modern survivors. But other language families are not so blessed. Even though all languages on earth probably do descend from one or at most a handful of common ancestors, in all probability it will never be possible to demonstrate anything before Proto-Indo-European with any confidence. The Nostraticists are playing paint-by-numbers and passing it off as art. But enough quibbles. The fact is that Professor McWhorter is a delightful and funny lecturer, and even if you don't find the subject all that interesting at first, you will be drawn in and fascinated. That said, if the title interests you at all, get the course. It w
Date published: 2019-09-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learning human decision making process I just like to listen to McWhorter, and I have for hours. His lectures demonstrate how humans make decisions as a group over a very long time period following a policy established early in the process. The end-product is the language we speak today. At a soccer game, for example, the parents of a young soccer player speak a very different language than I. Some times I just love the sound of their interactions. The professor explains, with many examples, how we arrived at this human condition.
Date published: 2019-09-22
  • y_2020, m_10, d_18, h_16
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.12
  • cp_2, bvpage2n
  • co_hasreviews, tv_10, tr_91
  • loc_en_US, sid_2235, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.0
  • CLOUD, getContent, 15.05ms

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought

Buy together as a Set
Save Up To $300.00
Choose a Set Format