Language, language and more about language?

Let’s simplify legal jargon!

Tax forms, credit agreements, healthcare legislation: They’re crammed with gobbledygook, says Alan Siegel, and incomprehensibly long. He calls for a simple, sensible redesign — and plain English — to make legal paperwork intelligible to the rest of us.


Comedy is translation

Every act of communication is, in some way, an act of translation. Onstage at TEDxRainier, writer Chris Bliss thinks hard about the way that great comedy can translate deep truths for a mass audience.


The joy of lexicography

Is the beloved paper dictionary doomed to extinction? In this infectiously exuberant talk, leading lexicographer Erin McKean looks at the many ways today’s print dictionary is poised for transformation.


Listening to global voices

Sure, the web connects the globe, but most of us end up hearing mainly from people just like ourselves. Blogger and technologist Ethan Zuckerman wants to help share the stories of the whole wide world. He talks about clever strategies to open up your Twitter world and read the news in languages you don’t even know.


Metaphorically speaking

Aphorism enthusiast and author James Geary waxes on a fascinating fixture of human language: the metaphor. Friend of scribes from Aristotle to Elvis, metaphor can subtly influence the decisions we make, Geary says.


On the world’s English mania

Jay Walker explains why two billion people around the world are trying to learn English. He shares photos and spine-tingling audio of Chinese students rehearsing English — “the world’s second language” — by the thousands.


The mathematics of history

What can mathematics say about history? According to TED Fellow Jean-Baptiste Michel, quite a lot. From changes to language to the deadliness of wars, he shows how digitized history is just starting to reveal deep underlying patterns.


Could your language affect your ability to save money?

What can economists learn from linguists? Behavioral economist Keith Chen introduces a fascinating pattern from his research: that languages without a concept for the future — “It rain tomorrow,” instead of “It will rain tomorrow” — correlate strongly with high savings rates.


Massive-scale online collaboration

After re-purposing CAPTCHA so each human-typed response helps digitize books, Luis von Ahn wondered how else to use small contributions by many on the Internet for greater good. In this talk, he shares how his ambitious new project, Duolingo, will help millions learn a new language while translating the Web quickly and accurately — all for free.


What’s a snollygoster? A short lesson in political speak

Most politicians choose their words carefully, to shape the reality they hope to create. But does it work? Etymologist Mark Forsyth shares a few entertaining word-origin stories from British and American history (for instance, did you ever wonder how George Washington became “president”?) and draws a surprising conclusion.


How language transformed humanity

Biologist Mark Pagel shares an intriguing theory about why humans evolved our complex system of language. He suggests that language is a piece of “social technology” that allowed early human tribes to access a powerful new tool: cooperation.


On the ancestor of language

After speaking at TED2007 on elegance in physics, the amazing Murray Gell-Mann gives a quick overview of another passionate interest: finding the common ancestry of our modern languages.


The linguistic genius of babies

Patricia Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another — by listening to the humans around them and “taking statistics” on the sounds they need to know. Clever lab experiments (and brain scans) show how 6-month-old babies use sophisticated reasoning to understand their world.


Don’t insist on English!

In her talk, longtime English teacher Patricia Ryan asks a provocative question: Is the world’s focus on English preventing the spread of great ideas in other languages? (For instance: what if Einstein had to pass the TOEFL?) It’s a passionate defense of translating and sharing ideas.


Put the financial aid in the bag

At TEDYouth 2011, performance artist Carvens Lissaint shows how to use language, metaphor and imagery to express a powerful idea — as in this spoken-word performance, a stirring plea to make college education more accessible.


A Rosetta Stone for the Indus script

Rajesh Rao is fascinated by “the mother of all crossword puzzles”: How to decipher the 4000 year old Indus script. At TED 2011 he tells how he is enlisting modern computational techniques to read the Indus language, the key piece to understanding this ancient civilization.


The right to understand

Medical, legal, and financial documents should be easy to read, but too often they aren’t. With spot-on (and funny) examples, Sandra Fisher Martins shows how overly complex language separates us from the information we need — and three steps to change that. In Portuguese with English subtitles.


Human nature and the blank slate

Steven Pinker’s book The Blank Slate argues that all humans are born with some innate traits. Here, Pinker talks about his thesis, and why some people found it incredibly upsetting.


What our language habits reveal

In an exclusive preview of his book The Stuff of Thought, Steven Pinker looks at language and how it expresses what goes on in our minds — and how the words we choose communicate much more than we realize.


The gentle genius of bonobos

Savage-Rumbaugh’s work with bonobo apes, which can understand spoken language and learn tasks by watching, forces the audience to rethink how much of what a species can do is determined by biology — and how much by cultural exposure.


Why is ‘x’ the unknown?

Why is ‘x’ the symbol for an unknown? In this short and funny talk, Terry Moore gives the surprising answer.


Smash fear, learn anything

From the EG conference: Productivity guru Tim Ferriss’ fun, encouraging anecdotes show how one simple question — “What’s the worst that could happen?” — is all you need to learn to do anything.


Dreams from endangered cultures

With stunning photos and stories, National Geographic Explorer Wade Davis celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the world’s indigenous cultures, which are disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate.

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