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Summary

Language, in its seemingly infinite varieties, 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.

The ability to communicate with the spoken word is so prevelant that we have yet to discover a civilization that does not speak. The fitful preservation of human remains throughout history has made tracing the ultimate origin of sophisticated human cultures difficult, but it is assumed that language is at least 300,000 years old. With so much time comes immense change - including the development of the written word. There’s no doubt that over centuries, numerous languages have been born, thrived, and died. So how did we get here, and how do we trace the many language branches back to the root?

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.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2019 The Great Courses (P)2019 The Teaching Company, LLC

What listeners say about Language Families of the World

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Great but two niggles

Really enjoyable lecture series. I had two niggling complaints after finishing. The first was that McWhorter only ever adopts a pejorative tone when describing the effects of empires when the imperialism was done by people with white skin, e.g. the British or the Russians. He skips every opportunity to moralize when it's brown-skinned folks who did the raping, enslaving, and language-diversity-destroying. The second was that in the final lecture he missed an opportunity to discuss the South American khipu as a form of writing which may rival cuneiform for antiquity based on recent archeology.

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At times annoying jokes

Prof McWorther is trying a bit too hard to be funny. Some of his jokes are really rather childish and hearing him imitating voices is rather embarrassing and at times annoying. The content, however, is incredibly fascinating.

5 people found this helpful

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John McWhorter does it again!

This course provides a detailed introduction to the languages of the world, roughly following the path of human migration as the species left East Africa. You’ll learn how experts know or guess that certain languages are related into what they call “families,” what shared characteristics each family has, and the debates between “lumpers” and “splitters” about whether certain families exist at all. McWhorter carefully selects some of the most interesting languages out there, most of which you will never have heard of, and explains their bizarre idiosyncrasies. It’s fairly intellectual, yes, but uncomplicated enough that you can listen while you are doing something else.

But what makes this course a real gem is McWhorter’s amazing delivery. He’ll have you laughing out loud as he explains the facts through his trademark non-sequiturs, rambling Grandpa Simpson stories, sound effects and cast of “Hanna Barbera” voices. His running gag about the “the coconut languages [hums Aloha Oe]” had me giggling every time. He knows exactly how to make the facts entertaining, and exactly what information to skip over because it’s too boring.

Yes, John, we *would* like to go to one of your dinner parties.

8 people found this helpful

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Engaging!

John McWhorter is a great narrator and keeps you interested in his field.
I love the way he's travelled around the world in language following the accepted pattern of human migration. it's great!

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Captivating

What a fantastic tour of the language groups of the world delivered in a very interesting and engaging manner. Definitely going to listen to other books in this series and related topics. I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Excellent

I really enjoyed listening to this. The author is entertaining and I learned a lot.

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Fascinating listen, delightfully performed

John McWhorter makes this a total pleasure to listen to. It is constantly fascinating, and I learned probably hundreds of things I didn't know.
He presents it in such an engaging and fun way as well. It's such a joy to listen to him talk with such passion and knowledge.

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Can see why this guy is a narrator, not a comedian

The voice he puts on during lecture two was equal parts irritating and garbled.
Zero stars, I'll read a book instead.

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Fascinating and very informative

I was rather blown away by this book and all the nuggets of information it passed on. I found it fascinating. The presentation was lively, maybe a teeny bit OTT at times, but nothing you wouldn't expect from a lecture at university. John's honest about his own biases in the subject, and decent about those who disagree.
Anyone wanting to invent a language for a fictional world should listen to this and get depressed at the options!

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Thank you

Absolutely fantastic work. Thank you so much for your sharing your awe-inspiring knowledge. I have learned so much from this and your other work. Fascinating.

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  • Privet
  • 20-04-19

Exactly what I was hoping and searching for

again, John McWortet delivers a great performance. The book, or rather the lecture structure, is extremely well put together. The performance, as always, complicated enough to let you know that he's an expert, but simple and humorous enough to let you actually learn and cause you to actually want to learn. I have been looking for a nice exposition of the language families of the world, and this did that perfectly. It also open my eyes to different ways of thinking, different ways of communicating, and different ways of being a human being. Anything that increases my understanding and tolerance like that, while also being a book that I've looked for since I was about 4 years old, is very good.

85 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-03-19

Superb

Overviewing the language families of the world is a massive undertaking, but McWhorter pulls it off well! He breaks up the lectures on specific families with tidbits about linguistics in general. Individual lectures are both entertaining and informative. Highly recommend!

58 people found this helpful

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  • Mark
  • 10-02-19

Entertaining

Anyone familiar with Professor McWhorter's work will enjoy this course. It's not the most structured lecture series you'll ever find, but it sparkles with McWhorter's trademark riffing, digressions, anecdotes, silly voices and pop culture references. Think of it as 16 hours of the most accomplished and entertaining linguist imaginable summarizing everything he knows about language families.

85 people found this helpful

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  • Tim
  • 12-02-19

Great update!

While using some of the same lessons from his previous course, the story of human language, Dr. Mcworter still manages to be extremely engaging to the language curiosity in all of us. If you’ve listen to the previous “story of human language”, this will be as enjoyable and more so if you want to dig down into what exactly makes all these language families so very different.

40 people found this helpful

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  • F. Stuart Leeds
  • 19-04-19

Masterful as Ever - and Then Some

John McWhorter is (in a turn of phrase he might appreciate)...kinda sui generis. Some teachers are great performers. And some performers are great teachers. McWhorter is all of the above. His courses are so much fun, and so full of illuminating information. My only complaint is that they are of finite length, and that they eventually have to come to their ends. As for this particular course - well. What a whirlwind survey of the world’s languages. And what rare form McWhorter is in, as he covers them all with panache and brio. My only faint plaint is that, as an unrepentant popularizer, he sometimes tries a little too hard to keep things simple, if not a little dumbed-down. These might not be 101 courses, but they’re not 301s, either. I think we can handle a little more technical jargon, and a little deeper dive into the linguist’s toolkit. But these are trifling kvetches. This course is simply fabulous, and you just need to 1. Get it, 2. Listen to it, and 3. Lather-rinse-repeat with the entire McWhorter catalogue.

38 people found this helpful

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  • Maev
  • 22-06-19

Best of McWhorter

This is the best audio course you'll find by McWhorter on audible. Extremely interesting and McWhorter's quirky presentation makes this one a must have if you like linguistics.

16 people found this helpful

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  • Ben
  • 01-03-19

Loved It!!!

The most enjoyable Great Courses lecture so far. Professor McWhorter is outstanding. I highly recommend this series.

16 people found this helpful

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  • William Mortensen Vaughan
  • 07-07-20

Too Anecdotal

This sounds more like a conversation in a bar than a serious book about linguistics.

I would prefer a book more about linguistics, and less about the author.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Kristine G.
  • 28-03-19

Interesting

John McWhorter is entertaining and funny. His voice is warm and caring. He does a great job teaching about languages and how they develop, change and die off.

14 people found this helpful

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  • Alwyn Vorster
  • 11-05-19

Extremely interesting

If languages mixed with a bit of history is your kind of thing, you'll enjoy this. Funny and charismatic professor too.

17 people found this helpful