The 14 Best Documentaries About Languages

Jul 29, 2023 | Best Of, History, People

The power of language is undeniable. For thousands of years, it has been used to communicate, express emotions and ideas, learn, teach and preserve history. With over 7,000 spoken languages in the world today – each unique in its own way – there is no limit to what can be said through language. Documentaries about language explore the various facets of this powerful tool. From examining how humans first started speaking to investigating conlangs (crafted tongues) and dead languages; these documentaries offer a glimpse into how learning new languages affects our brains, why endangered languages need preserving and how writing systems have evolved over time.


1. Whistled language of the island of La Gomera (Canary Islands), the Silbo Gomero

The Canary Islands have a unique and remarkable language that has been passed down through generations – the Silbo Gomero. This whistled language replicates Castilian Spanish, using two distinct whistles for each of the five vowels and four for consonants. With practice, its users can communicate any message! This traditional language is so important to La Gomera Island’s intangible cultural heritage that it has been taught in schools since 1999. Both young and elderly inhabitants understand and use this fascinating dialect, making it an integral part of island life.


2. How Does Language Change Your Brain?

Discover the remarkable power of bilingualism! Recent research has revealed that speaking multiple languages can have a major positive impact on your brain, including increasing its size. This video will take you on an exploration of the polyglot life and explain why it is so beneficial for language learners. From boosting memory to sparking creativity, watch this video and learn more about the amazing advantages of being able to speak more than one language!


3. Why Save a Language

This powerful documentary by Sally Thompson shines a light on the devastating loss of more than half of the 300 indigenous languages found in North America. Representing languages such as Kainai (Blackfeet), Cuyuse-Walla Walla, Pikuni (Blackfeet), Lakota, Osage, Hidatsa, Yakama, Mandan – Hidatsa, Cayuse-Nez Perce, Couer d’Alene , Elwha Klallam and Wasco – this film is essential viewing for anyone interested in linguistics and global language conservation.


4. The Universal Language

The Universal Language is a captivating 2011 documentary directed by Sam Green. It dives deep into the history of Esperanto, an inspiring language and its passionate supporters. This movie brings together archive footage and interviews with dedicated Esperantists to paint a picture of this unique language. Winning the 2012 Ashland Independent Film Festival award for Juried Best Short Documentary, The Universal Language is a must-watch for all language lovers! Learn about the past and present of this fascinating language that has been embraced by many people around the world.


5. When We First Talked

Language has been an integral part of our species from the beginning, and over millions of years we have evolved to be able to communicate in a myriad of ways. In this documentary, we take a deep dive into the story of how language developed throughout human history and examine its role in shaping who we are today. From looking at ancient languages that no longer exist to understanding how modern day communication works – join us on this journey as we explore when it all first began!


6. 10 Languages That Have Been Lost to Time

Have you ever wondered about the languages that have been lost to time? In this video, we explore ten of these dead languages and their cultural significance. From Tonkawa to Ancient Egyptian, learn more about why these ancient tongues are still studied today. We’ll also discuss what makes them so fascinating and how they’ve impacted our modern world. Finally, get an inside look at Greenlandic Norse and other long-lasting dialects that will leave you wanting to know even more!


7. Evolution of the Indo-European Languages

Follow the evolution of the Indo-European Language family and uncover its ancient roots. This documentary will take you on a journey through time, exploring how languages remain intertwined and connected throughout history. We’ll explore powerful relationships between diverse range of languages to gain an understanding of this linguistic lineage. Discover the incredible story behind this ancient language family in this captivating documentary!


8. Long History Documentaries: History of the English Language

Do you want to know more about the history of English language? This documentary will take you on a journey through time, from its Germanic roots in 5th century Britain all the way to its current status as an international lingua franca. We’ll explore how influences like Norman French and Latin shaped the language, as well as how globalization has allowed it to spread worldwide. Plus, learn why English became the language of choice for communication throughout many countries including U.S., Canada and Australia! Come join us on this captivating exploration into one of world’s most widely spoken languages – The History of the English Language!


9. Conlanging, The Art of Crafting Tongues

Are you curious about the power of language and how to create a new one? Conlanging: The Art of Crafting Tongues is an engaging documentary featuring David J. Peterson, Marc Okrand, David Salo, Paul Frommer and Christine Schreyer that offers insight into the history and practice of conlanging. Learn more about this fascinating hobby as it delves into its current practitioners! Discover how creating languages can be used to preserve endangered ones too! Watch now to unlock the power of language with Conlanging: The Art Of Crafting Tongues!


10. Alphabet: The Story of Writing pt. 1 and 2 by Donald Jackson

In Alphabet: The Story of Writing, viewers are taken on a journey from cave paintings to modern letter forms. We start with clay/wax tablets and progress through hieroglyphics before exploring how the alphabet originated. Learn all about manuscript production from the end of the Roman Empire – including lowercase development, quill pen usage and illumination techniques. Plus goldleafing ink-making too! Discover how far we’ve come in language, art and communication with this unique documentary experience!


11. Birth of a Language – BBC Documentary

Have you ever been curious about the history of English? Then this is the video for you! Join Melvyn Bragg on an adventure as he takes us through the fascinating journey of how our language was born. Learn all about its origins and how it has evolved over time in this BBC documentary series. Uncover intriguing facts, stories and anecdotes that will leave you with a newfound appreciation for one of mankind’s most important inventions: The English Language!


12. The secrets of learning a new language

Do you want to learn a new language but don’t know where to start? This video offers the secrets to mastering any language. We’ll explore how to create a plan and set achievable goals, as well as strategies for staying motivated while learning. Plus, we’ll provide tips for utilizing tools like apps and podcasts that can help accelerate your progress!


13. Animals like us : The animal language

Are animals capable of speaking? Could it be that they are simply choosing not to communicate with us? This documentary explores the mysterious language of animals and takes viewers on a journey into the wild. From parrots to killer whales, we look at who is saying what and whether there could be an animal language out there. Scientists share their insights into how understanding these creatures can help humans better comprehend nature’s noisemakers. Get ready to uncover mysteries about our furry friends in this one-hour exploration!


14. How language shapes the way we think

Discover how different languages around the world have unique sounds, vocabularies and structures that can influence the way we view life. In this video, cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky shares examples of language from Aboriginal communities in Australia to Russian words for blue, illustrating how diverse and ingenious human minds are! Find out more about how our linguistic diversity reveals just how flexible our minds can be with this enlightening documentary!

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David B