The Origins of Language

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Published: 6.07.2021
Level 5   |   Time: 4:08
Accent: American
Source: Freakonomics Radio (9.13.2017)

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

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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 language splitting into two or more languages over time
  • ☐ ☐ ☐ eat up [phv] - destroy, eliminate
  • ☐ ☐ ☐ rapacious imperial power [n] - a greedy country that conquers other countries

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



triangle Comprehension Questions


  1. What are the three theories that the professor mentions for the origin of language?
    Singing
    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?
    Singing
    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 scavenging 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 because _____.
    people hear things differently over time
    some sounds are impossible to reproduce
    people need new words

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

  9. The professor states that _____ change over time.
    all languages
    most languages
    some languages

  10. 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

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

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

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

  14. 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

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



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