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Who counts as a speaker of a language? | Anna Babel

Visit to get our entire library of TED Talks, transcripts, translations, personalized talk recommendations and more. Backed by research and personal anecdotes, Spanish professor Anna Babel reveals the intricate relationship between language and culture, showing how social categories and underlying biases influence the way we hear, regard and, ultimately, judge each other. A talk that…

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Backed by research and personal anecdotes, Spanish professor Anna Babel reveals the intricate relationship between language and culture, showing how social categories and underlying biases influence the way we hear, regard and, ultimately, judge each other. A talk that will leave you questioning your assumptions about what it really means to speak a language.

The TED Talks channel features the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design — plus science, business, global issues, the arts and more. You’re welcome to link to or embed these videos, forward them to others and share these ideas with people you know.

TED’s videos may be used for non-commercial purposes under a Creative Commons License, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives (or the CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International) and in accordance with our TED Talks Usage Policy (). For more information on using TED for commercial purposes (e.g. employee learning, in a film or online course), please submit a Media Request at

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43 Comments

43 Comments

  1. Avatar

    owelic

    January 8, 2021 at 6:12 am

    i was with her until she started saying that her kids were racially profiled….. everything the teacher told her was true and it had nothing to do with race…. she or her husband needs to spend more time raising their kids….

  2. Avatar

    Trang dday

    January 8, 2021 at 6:22 am

    Mong rằng điểm anh sẽ cao. Lần sau tôi sẽ bình ti nh làm và chắc chắn hơn :((

  3. Avatar

    Kate

    January 8, 2021 at 7:17 am

    I am a Russian and I can understand almost everything in English. But when I am trying to speak english around other people I’m still have an accent, but when I do it on my own it vanishes. I guess that’s because of my shyness and because I feel like I never be as good as native speakers

  4. Avatar

    Asraa Ali

    January 8, 2021 at 7:35 am

    Hello l’m Asraa to from lraq.
    l Want help.
    lWant to translate it in Arabic

  5. Avatar

    Khương Hoàng Vỷ

    January 8, 2021 at 7:51 am

    Presentation to her very well

  6. Avatar

    James Downs

    January 8, 2021 at 9:47 am

    Isn’t this actually about whether African American english is considered a legitimate language?

    If the teacher accepted the African American english from other students as native speakers then there would definitely be a problem but I didn’t see that demonstrated.

  7. Avatar

    Кирило Ігошев

    January 8, 2021 at 9:54 am

    So, Who counts as a speaker of a language? I haven’t heard the answer

  8. Avatar

    ZgermanGuy

    January 8, 2021 at 10:31 am

    ha her name is babel and she talks about languages. thats something you usually only find in super hero comics

  9. Avatar

    Dark Soul

    January 8, 2021 at 10:33 am

    That’s emotional! The lady’s really hurt! And she’s right to be!

    • Avatar

      Grokford

      January 10, 2021 at 9:08 am

      I don’t doubt her sincerity but I don’t expect that the problem is as serious as she suggests. It’s all about pattern recognition and there are many people who speak English with Brown skin. Of course she and her Children are on the paler side regardless.

  10. Avatar

    Aurélien Carnoy

    January 8, 2021 at 11:30 am

    Sinbad the sailor said that many people from many nation speaking different languages came over for work. When the building collapsed they naturally lost there jobs and moved away.
    I hope it clarified somethings

  11. Avatar

    True Crime Queen TV

    January 8, 2021 at 12:09 pm

    LOVE VIDEOS LIKE THESE! STAY SAFE EVERYONE 🙏

  12. Avatar

    question ade

    January 8, 2021 at 12:23 pm

    Bullshit the only English is English English. African American English? There is not such thing as American English how can AAE exist. This is nonsense. There are however 100’s of English patois, dilects and vernacular. None however are English like what the Queen speaks

  13. Avatar

    Rae Fishman

    January 8, 2021 at 12:27 pm

    The truth as seen from two perspectives, but in this case seen more than heard.

  14. Avatar

    amstertuk

    January 8, 2021 at 1:09 pm

    There are video is fantastic))

  15. Avatar

    madis_l

    January 8, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    As speaker of southern dialect of Rally English I find this presentation bit too woke.

    • Avatar

      Grokford

      January 10, 2021 at 9:05 am

      What do you mean? I might agree that it was a bit dramatic about a problem that everyone has to deal with but is that what you were referring to?

  16. Avatar

    Laura Kuhlmann

    January 8, 2021 at 3:46 pm

    And this is why I took my husband’s name. When people don’t realize I’m not a native speaker (we lived so far in two countries, I was fluent in both languages, although I was advanced only in one) they’re super collaborative, and shocked to hear I’m from a different country when I finally disclose that information. Before, when they heard my foreign family name, I had doors slamming in my face the whole time

  17. Avatar

    Eric Oliveira

    January 8, 2021 at 6:04 pm

    I thought that she was part of the Babel english app. But I saw that it’s Babbel and not Babel.

  18. Avatar

    VintageRose

    January 8, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    I love her dress

  19. Avatar

    MP King

    January 9, 2021 at 12:16 am

    My sister was in actors school in bavaria and they told her she should work on her polish accent
    Now she is in University in Berlin and they tell her she speaks great German
    Because they dont see her as a polish girl like they did in bavaria. They are more open in berlin and she really never had an accent but when you now a persons backround u assume they will fail in some categories

    • Avatar

      Grokford

      January 10, 2021 at 9:16 am

      That is very true but I do wonder how much are we creating in our minds and how much do we just not see until we are reminded.

    • Avatar

      MP King

      January 10, 2021 at 9:46 am

      @Grokford sometimes you see or hear tging that arent there but you think they are because someone told you something. Like you would eat a pancake, an ordinary pancake and your mom is apologizing she has put too much salt in. In this situation you are aware of the salt and taste it much stronger then you would normally.

    • Avatar

      Grokford

      January 12, 2021 at 8:15 am

      MP King I don’t disagree I was merely wondering to what degree is it imagination and to what degree is the limited scope of our consciousness in relation to various stimuli affecting what we do or do not consciously recognize.

  20. Avatar

    Solitary Reaper

    January 9, 2021 at 3:13 am

    poor english is “african-american english” now, got it. What a naked propaganda piece.

    • Avatar

      Grokford

      January 10, 2021 at 9:03 am

      It rather depends one what you mean by “Poor English”. The opinions of linguists vary but I choose to think of African-American English/AAVE/Ebonics as its own language. It’s certainly it’s own language variety regardless of the loaded terms of language and dialect. So if that is the case then yes or is a rather poor version Standard English just like English is a rather poor Chinese or French.
      Things don’t have to be the same for them to be equally legitimate.

  21. Avatar

    enjoy HD

    January 9, 2021 at 4:56 am

    I’m here from Iraq 🇮🇶🇮🇶🇮🇶🇮🇶🇮🇶🇮🇶🇮🇶🇮🇶🇮🇶🇮🇶🇮🇶🇮🇶❤️❤️❤️🇮🇶🇮🇶🇮🇶😊😊😊

  22. Avatar

    Karmen

    January 9, 2021 at 5:40 pm

    I don’t know about you guys, but I loved her style, it’s not that “pant suit, I gotta be here.” It’s just her being her, don’t get me wrong pant suits are amazing, but she really brought her style into this and made it beautiful

  23. Avatar

    Luke Sandison

    January 9, 2021 at 11:02 pm

    “The simplest truth about man is that he is a very strange being; almost in the sense of being a stranger on the earth. In all sobriety, he has much more of the external appearance of one bringing alien habits from another land than of a mere growth of this one.

    He cannot sleep in his own skin; he cannot trust his own instincts. He is at once a creator moving miraculous hands and fingers and a kind of cripple. He is wrapped in artificial bandages called clothes; he is propped on artificial crutches called furniture. His mind has the same doubtful liberties and the same wild limitations. Alone among the animals, he is shaken with the beautiful madness called laughter; as if he had caught sight of some secret in the very shape of the universe hidden from the universe itself. Alone among the animals he feels the need of averting his thought from the root realities of his own bodily being; of hiding them as in the presence of some higher possibility which creates the mystery of shame.”

    ― G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

  24. Avatar

    Luke Sandison

    January 9, 2021 at 11:08 pm

    “What is the good of words if they aren’t important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one word more than another if there isn’t any difference between them? If you called a woman a chimpanzee instead of an angel, wouldn’t there be a quarrel about a word? If you’re not going to argue about words, what are you going to argue about? Are you going to convey your meaning to me by moving your ears? The Church and the heresies always used to fight about words, because they are the only thing worth fighting about.”

    ― G.K. Chesterton

  25. Avatar

    Grokford

    January 10, 2021 at 8:50 am

    Being a White Hispanic in America this is very relevant discussion for me. Despite being raised in America with two anglophone parents People often assumed when I was a child that English was my second language until I intentionally started matching people’s accents and phraseology(abs got over my Anti-Southern prejudice). But unfortunately there is nothing I can mimic in English that will make anglophone employers ignore my color. I’ve lost countless job opportunities due in a non-neglible part to the fact that I don’t look the part of Hispanic person to most Americans which is rather a problem when interpreting is the industry. On one occasion a former classmate was hired for a position I had applied for who I had tutored because he always mixed his tenses.

    I went to a bakery every month for near on five years and every time I walked in the clerk looked panicked until she remembered that I did in fact speak Spanish.
    And that doesn’t even get into how people perceive my mixed accent in Spanish

  26. Avatar

    Grokford

    January 10, 2021 at 8:50 am

    Being a White Hispanic in America this is very relevant discussion for me. Despite being raised in America with two anglophone parents People often assumed when I was a child that English was my second language until I intentionally started matching people’s accents and phraseology(and got over my Anti-Southern prejudice). But unfortunately there is nothing I can mimic in English that will make anglophone employers ignore my color. I’ve lost countless job opportunities due in a non-neglible part to the fact that I don’t look the part of Hispanic person to most Americans which is rather a problem when interpreting is the industry. On one occasion a former classmate was hired for a position I had applied for who I had tutored because he always mixed his tenses.

    I went to a bakery every month for near on five years and every time I walked in the clerk looked panicked until she remembered that I did in fact speak Spanish.
    And that doesn’t even get into how people perceive my mixed accent in Spanish

  27. Avatar

    Osmar Ferreira

    January 10, 2021 at 1:05 pm

    I watching this video for learn english. I understand more than 50%.

  28. Avatar

    Darcy Larangeira

    January 10, 2021 at 6:06 pm

    My question is: Is it possible to take a breath while speaking in English. Some other language speakers, do not go ahead in so high speaking speed. My God, what is this?

  29. Avatar

    David O'Neill

    January 10, 2021 at 8:43 pm

    Remember the TED talk that tried to normalize paedophilia, yeah good times. 🤨

  30. Avatar

    Loren Swan

    January 10, 2021 at 9:28 pm

    When I worked for a political campaign in 2016, I spent many hours on the phone speaking with potential voters. Their automatic assumption of my ethnicity, social class, and education due simply vernacular awarded me an unique peek into “how the other side views me.” It was appalling and forced me to reevaluate whether my life failures as a handsome female African American veteran were even mine to take accountability for. What unfolded in the following eight years as I stood up for social equality escalated to unimaginable heights paralleling the State of the Union at such breathtaking levels I can only assume my safety to be a product of divine intervention, from sexual to racial harassment suits, drive by shootings, car chases, mob terrorism, to actual terrorist attacks. All because I sound like a pale red headed freckled faced New Yorker on the phone and yet the one drop rule of the south puts my tanned skin at Amistad levels of incomprehension visually as well as linguistically in person. I have since become a polyglot, in my drive to connect with people with no avail, but this video vindicates that “little black girl” who was told couldn’t properly read and write English let alone several other language some day. So happy I found this. I love Sundays.

  31. Avatar

    raharu000

    January 11, 2021 at 12:47 am

    9:08 Well, yes, she evaluated him as a child whose standard English was deficient, because that’s what the test was measuring. It wasn’t measuring AAVE efficiency. It would’ve been a huge disservice to the child to mark “Who has Jane pencil” as correct just because it’s AAVE. That has nothing to do with racial profiling.
    If we start giving a pass to “Who has Jane pencil,” the world will laugh at us. 75% of English speakers are non-native from around the world and if your kid opens a business presentation in Korea with “Who has Jane pencil,” no one will take him seriously. You can talk about the natural fluidity of language in a non-prescriptive way, but the reality is that the world takes standard English seriously.

  32. Avatar

    Confessions

    January 11, 2021 at 8:05 am

    Her rack is beautiful in any language!!!

  33. Avatar

    Tangy

    January 11, 2021 at 8:40 am

    had to watch this in form time smh

  34. Avatar

    Кристина Конопихина

    January 11, 2021 at 11:37 am

    She could have found a better school for her children! I am from Russia and we dont have the construction in Russian either, but it does not mean I should not use this when I speak english lol Its a silly mistake honestly

  35. Avatar

    Milan Kostek

    January 11, 2021 at 1:53 pm

    I’m rather surprised that the professor of the Spanish language is not easy with the fact that her Spanish children do not speak correct English. Her children’s exposure to vernacular English is no racism. (She seems to be woke.) It’s just the impact of the surroundings with African Americans. Now to the linguistic point. I am Slovak, nonnative “speaker”. Jane pencil sounds like the pencil from a Jane company (exactly like Volvo car). Who counts as a speaker of a language??? There was no answer in the video. I think that everybody who speaks a language may be counted as a speaker of a language. One may be a poor nonnative speaker, another one may be a vernacular native speaker. There may exist a speaker of standard English (either American or British English) in case they avoid local dialects they grew up in. One cannot disagree that proper English is necessary to understanding each other properly. I cannot understand the term “Jane pencil”, sorry.

  36. Avatar

    José Martins

    January 11, 2021 at 10:34 pm

    What she is “fighting against” starts when she herself identifies as something else than her “latino” kids.

  37. Avatar

    HarryGuit

    January 12, 2021 at 7:44 pm

    The Babel story doesn’t tell us about languages. It tells us how the author thought about language.

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