Endangered Languages on TV

A series of five documentaries on languages is scheduled to air on OBE (Original Black Entertainment) TV in the UK starting on 13th April 2008. OBE TV is a freeview 24 hour Channel on Sky Digital Channel 204 with a primary target audience from the African, Caribbean and other ethnic communities in the UK and Ireland, Europe, North Africa and beyond. OBE TV reaches over 7.8 million satellite subscribers in the UK and Ireland alone.
The documentary series is called World – Speaking in Tongues and the episodes are…..


Episode 1: Let There Be Words
In this episode, a wide array of experts will define what language is. We will go back to early prehistoric time and attempt to trace the possible origins of language. Various theories of language origin will be presented and what distinguishes human communication from all other forms of animal communication will also be discussed.
Episode 2: Constant Change
Early migration, the introduction of agriculture, and genes will be some factors that will be discussed and debated. A look at how language is transferred from mother to child and from one population to the next and the internal and the external factors that contribute to language change will also be examined. How languages splinter off into dialects and how dialects then can become new languages will also be considered.
Episode 3: Mother Tongues
Just 0.1% of the world’s population speaks about a quarter of the world’s languages. Why is this? We journey across the world to find out how many languages are spoken in each region and what characteristic the languages of that region share. We also look at the historical backgrounds of some key languages.
Episode 4: Civilization to Colonization
We look at the emergence and development of various writing systems from around the world. What role did European colonization and the development of writing play in the proliferation of certain languages?
Episode 5: Birth and Death
It is believed that in just one hundred years, more than 50% of all the world’s languages will be extinct. But as languages are lost, new ones naturally emerge. Others are constructed by diligent scholars. In this episode, we look at the phenomenon of artificial languages like Esperanto. We also look at the future of languages and predict which ones will emerge as the important languages of the future.
There will be a pre-recorded discussion programme entitled Truth of the Matter to be broadcast on 13th April 2008 which will range over the topics covered in the five documentaries. I have been invited by the presenter Adwoa Agyemang to be part of the discussion panel, along with my colleague from the SOAS Language Centre Anil Biltoo. It is to be hoped that OBE TV makes the documentaries available for showing elsewhere in the world, such as on SBS in Australia which showed the Danish documentary In Languages We Live: Voices of the World on Friday 4th April 2008.

2 thoughts on “Endangered Languages on TV”

  1. Readers who can receive OBE TV Sky Digital 204 may be interested to know that the interview segment “Truth of the Matter” on languages is scheduled to be broadcast on Thursday 10th April 2008 at 6.30PM UK summer time, and Friday 11th April 2008 at 6.00 pm UK summer time.

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