isten in English
The Origins of Language

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Published: 10.01.2017
Level 4   |   Time: 4:08
Accent: American
Source: Freakonomics Radio (9.13.2017)

TOEFL: A clip about how English became the dominant world language and the (unfair) advantages it gives its speakers.

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You can download the file [ HERE ].

    

triangle Directions


  1. REVIEW the vocabulary.
  2. LISTEN to the audio above.
  3. ANSWER the questions.
  4. CHECK your answers (Show Answers)

triangle Vocabulary


  • primates [n] - apes, humans
  • hairy [adj] - having a lot of hair
  • infants [n] - babies
  • foraging [n] - looking for food (nuts, berries)
  • coo [v] - a soft sound that a mother makes to calm down a baby
  • scavenge [v] - look for food (already killed animals)
  • incentive [n] - motivation
  • gossip [n] - talking about people who are not there (rumors)
  • utilitarian [adj] - useful
  • transaction cost [n] - cost of using something
  • bloom [v] - become popular
  • swell [adj] - good / nice
  • inherently [adv] - a quality that exists in something naturally
  • Telephone [n - a game of whispering something from person to person to person
  • linguist diversity [n] - many different languages
  • linguist splintering [n] - one languages splitting into two or more languages over time
  • eat up [phv] - destroy
  • rapacious imperial power [n] - a greedy country that conquers other countries

[n] - noun,  [v] - verb,  [phv] - phrasal verb,  [adj] - adjective,  [exp] - expression


triangle Guided Listening


  1. What are the three theories that the professor mentions for the origin of language?
    To sing.
    To calm down children.
    To scavenge large animals.
    To trade things between groups.

  2. Which theory does the professor think is most likely to be true?
    To sing.
    To calm down children.
    To scavenge large animals.
    To trade things between groups.

  3. According to the professor, what is the difference between most primates and humans?
    Humans are larger than most primates.
    Humans are weaker than most primates.
    Humans have less hair than most primates.

  4. Why is hair important for raising children.
    It keeps children warm.
    It allows children to hold on to their mother.
    The smell of a mother's hair calms down children.

  5. Why do scavengers need language?
    To work together in groups for very large animals.
    To decide how to divide large animals.
    To give names to the animals that they scavenge.

  6. The host thinks that having one universal language...
    would be impossible.
    would be more efficient.
    would be less efficient.

  7. According to the professor, languages tend to...
    change.
    become easier to speak.
    stay the same.

  8. According to the professor, languages tend to change because...
    people hear things differently over time.
    some sounds are impossible to reproduce.
    people need new words.

  9. The host compares the change of language over time to...
    talking to people far away.
    talking on the telephone.
    playing a game of telephone.

  10. The professor states that ___ change over time.
    all languages
    most languages
    some languages

  11. The host suggests that there would be less language diversity if ancient people...
    had looked at the clouds more.
    had invented written language earlier.
    had lived in larger communities

  12. The professor says that written language was invented...
    10 minutes ago.
    10 centuries ago.
    relatively recently in human history.

  13. The professor states that about _____ languages are severly endangered.
    1000
    3500
    7000

  14. The 20 most common languages...
    are the easiest languages to learn.
    have stopped changing.
    are helping eliminate many of the smaller languages.

  15. According to the professor, English...
    is the best language to study.
    is difficult to learn.
    is having the most success.
    is now being driven by America.
    has a history of greedy imperialism.

  16. When the professor mentions a "rapacious imperial power", he means...
    the English language.
    England.
    the United States.


triangle TOEFL Questions


  1. What is the discussion mainly about?
    The history of language and language diversity.
    The reasons why only humans developed language.
    The benefits of learning English.
    The differences between languages.

  2. Accroding to the conversation, which of the following statements about language are true?
    Language may have started with people singing.
    Language may have started so parents could calm their children when not being held.
    Language probably started so that humans could scavenge in large groups.
    Language may have started so that people could trade animals between groups.

  3. According to the professor, why is having hair helpful for female primates?
    Infant primates are protected from severe weather by their mother's hair.
    Infant primates are protected from disease by their mother's hair.
    Infant primates can hold on to their mother's hair, so the mother don't have to put them down.
    Infant primates feel more relaxed when they can smell their mother's hair.

  4. According to professor, how does language change?
    People hear and then produce sounds differently over time.
    People create new words over time.
    People often write down what they hear in different ways.
    People change sounds and words so that they can't be understood by enimeis.

  5. What does the host mean when he says this?

    Language is like talking to people far away.
    Language changes when people talk on the telephone.
    Language change is similar to playing a game of telephone.
    The invention of the telephone made language change more quickly.

  6. According to the professor, what percentage of languages change?
    100%
    about 50%
    less than 50%
    It is impossible to know.

  7. What can you infer about the relationship between written and spoken language?
    Written language was first used long before spoken language.
    Spoken language was first used long before written language.
    Spoken language was first used a little before written language.
    Spoken and written language were first used at about the same time.

  8. What does the host mean when he says this?

    Written language was invented 10 minutes ago.
    Written language was invented 10 centuries ago.
    Written language was invented long ago.
    Written language was invented relatively recently in human history.

  9. How many languages are severly endangered?
    1000
    3500
    7000
    70 000

  10. The 20 most common languages...
    are the easiest languages to learn.
    have stopped changing.
    are helping eliminate many of the smaller languages.

  11. According to the professor, English...
    is the best language to study.
    is difficult to learn.
    is having the most success.
    is now being driven by America.
    has a history of greedy imperialism.

  12. When the professor mentions a "rapacious imperial power, he means...
    the English language.
    England.
    the United States.


triangle Script



There are many many theories as to why people started using language, and some of them are ones where you want it to be true because it’s cool. There’s one theory that it started with people singing and that that became language. There’s another theory — and this is interesting — the idea is that humans are the only primates who aren’t hairy enough for infants to hold on all the time because there isn’t enough hair. So you have to put the infant down while you’re foraging. There’s a theory that speech began because human women could coo at their child and keep the child calm, as opposed to, if ou’re a chimpanzee where the child can always be up against you. But I think it probably started with humans needing to group together to scavenge animals dead at a distance that were too big for one human, or even one little group of humans to deal with.

Regardless of why language started and developed as it is, I would think that there would have been a large incentive for everyone to speak the same language. Whether it’s utilitarian, or gossip, or singing, or cooing to one’s family, it would just seem like there’s a lot less transaction cost if we’re all speaking the same language. How did it come to be and why did it come to be that so many languages bloomed?

Language is inherently changeable not because change is swell but because as you use a language over time and you pass it on to new generations, brains tend to start hearing things slightly differently than they were produced. After a while you start producing them that way. Next thing you know, you have a new sound. So it's Telephone before there is such thing as a Telephone.

It is exactly that. That is as inherent to language as it is inherent for clouds to change their shape. It isn’t that that happens to some languages and not others. That’s how human speech goes.

Is a lot of the linguistic diversity or the linguistic splintering that we’re talking about largely a function of the fact that spoken came so much before written? If there had been written that we wouldn’t have splintered?

If writing had come along immediately, quite certainly there would have been less change from place to place. But instead, because until really about 10 minutes ago language was just spoken, it was allowed to change at the speed that it normally does. That change can happen in any one of various directions, which means that once you have two human groups, then their language after a certain period of time is not going to be the language that the original group spoke, just because say the sound “ah” might become “eh.” It might become, “uh.” You can see how a language would become a new one over time. Next thing you know, you have thousands of languages instead of one just because languages change like cloud formations.

Given our pretty advanced development of language and communication, what are the big problems with language as it now exists?

Well, we have 7,000 languages, and it’s safe to say that about half of them are severely endangered. Another thing that many people would consider a bad thing is that certain, roughly 20, big, fat languages are eating up so many of these small ones. What makes this regrettable to many, and quite understandably, is that the one that’s having probably the most success is English. English is this one language that was the vehicle of a rapaciously imperial power and now America is the main driver. That language is eating up all of these other languages, and in some ways, their cultures.