Our Shrinking World

I'm always fascinated by single words that sum up complex ideas or activities. One of my personal favorites is the German word, "schadenfreude." It means to take pleasure in someone else's misfortune. To my knowledge, there is no equivalent word in English.

I'm learning about other languages around the world that have words with really interesting meanings. Take these for example, from the Indian language Gta':

  • "Goteh," means "bring something from an inaccessible place with the help of a long stick";
  • "Nosore," means "to free someone from a tiger"; and
  • "Poh," means "to kill lice by pressing them under your nails."

Gta' is a dying language spoken by the Didayi people of India. It's one of the languages tracked by the linguists at the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. Their mission is to identify, study, document and preserve languages on the brink of extinction. Their work is featured as part of the Enduring Voices Project they are conducting in collaboration with the National Geographic Society. That web site has lots of great information and an interactive map about the endangered cultures of the world. Bob talks with linguist David Harrison, one of the subjects of a documentary called "The Linguists" -- and with two of the film's directors Seth Kramer and Jeremy Newberger. It's scheduled to premiere at 10pm this Thursday on PBS.

click here to see the trailer for "The Linguists" and to purchase the DVD.