The following are a selection of films and animations about language and communication that I’ve made over the years, covering topics from Shakespeare and swearing to emoji and robotics, and from fake news and filter bubbles to comedy and creativity.
English today is used all across the world, for everything from finance to popular culture. But how did a language that was once spoken by just a few tribes on an island off the coast of continental Europe end up becoming the world’s pre-eminent lingua franca? This short animation about English in the world explains all!
Focusing on the work of Extinction Rebellion, and with contributions from journalists, activists and academics, the film is an insightful look at political communication in the era of the protest
A short animation explaining what exactly language is, where it comes from, and how it works. With perfectly justifiable cameos from René Descartes, Alan Turing and Edward Sapir.
The History of English in Ten Minutes
A series of short animations that attempt to squeeze 1600 years of linguistic history into a little over ten minutes. The series won a ‘Learning on Screen’ award in 2012.
A short animation which makes a valiant attempt at defining the concept of creativity, and explaining what it has to do with language. The video looks at the ways people use language in creative ways, at the roles linguistic creativity plays in society, and at how we can go about studying it.
Manga and children’s literature
Two interviews with Dr Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere, curator of the British Museum’s 2019 exhibition on manga. The first video looks at the relationship between manga and children’s literature, while the second looks at techniques and conventions used in writing manga.
A short film investigating the emoji phenomenon, explaining why they’ve become such an important part of modern-day culture, and how they work as a means of communication. Narrated by radio personality Lauren Laverne.
Lying is a central part of everyday life, whether we like it or not. But what exactly is a lie? Is there a difference between a lie, an untruth and a falsehood? With great consternation about the amount of lying in public life at the moment, this two part documentary looks at what exactly we mean by the word ‘lying’, and what role it plays in human communication.
A series of twenty short episodes teaching a selection of phrases and idioms that were coined or popularised by Shakespeare. Produced by BBC Learning English in association with the OU. Runner-up in the ‘Resources for Secondary and Higher Learners’ category at the English Speaking Union awards, 2016, and was nominated for a British Council ELTon Award in ‘Innovation in learner resources’ in 2017.
Shakespeare Original Pronunciation
An introduction with David and Ben Crystal to ‘Original Pronunciation’ productions of Shakespeare, and what they reveal about the history of the English language.
A very short film about some of the confusing paradoxes of human communication, as described by Maria Popa from Romania.
Fake news, filter bubbles and sharing wisely!
Three short animations about the circulation of information on social media, looking at issues such as sharing, online filter bubbles and the impact of fake news. Narrated by Josie Long.
Narrative in Journalism and Politics
An interview with broadcaster Evan Davies and journalist James Ball, in which they discuss the importance of narrative for news reporting, and the dangers of letting the story lead the facts.
Six short videos looking at the way comedians manipulate language for comedic purposes. Featuring Charlie Higson talking about catchphrases; Henning Wehn on cross cultural humour; David McGilivray discussing innuendo and puns; Isy Suttie on crafting a joke; and Graham Fellows on creating his character John Shuttleworth.
A film all about the linguistics of swearing. Why we do it and what it can tell us about the culture in which we live. Made in collaboration with Tilt, presented by Adam Woollard and Theo Marlow, and with expert insight from Emma Byrne, Jean-Marc Dewaele, Melissa Mohr and Sean Burke.
A short video, made in the early 2010s, looking at the use of English in European politics, and especially its status as the de facto working language for the European Parliament.
A short documentary asking whether it’s ever going to be likely that robots will be able to learn to speak like humans; and what the research that’s addressing this challenge can teach us about the complexity of human language.
Stories on social media and fake news An interview I gave with Diggit Magazine, alongside Alexandra Georgakopoulou, about my research into social media and politics.
What’s fake about ‘fake news’? An interview I gave with Hugh Mcfaul about the concept of fake news.
Creativity and literary agents An interview with Jonny Geller, CEO of Curtis Brown, about the role of the literary agent in the creative process.
Short, online courses
A brief history of communication: hieroglyphics to emojis
This short online course looks at the history of writing and the key role it plays in human communication. Nowadays, it is difficult to think of language as existing without writing, but in the long history of humankind’s ability to use language it is only relatively recently that writing emerged. The course also looks as the vital relationship between technology and writing, and how the development of new technologies alter the way we communicate.
This short online course looks at how English became the global force that it is today. It explores the status of the language and its worldwide diversity. It looks at how social and political factors influence people’s attitudes towards it, and at the relationship between one’s linguistic heritage and sense of identity. It comprises 8 hours of study at an introductory level
There’s also a two-part time line of the history of English, related to the above course:
Part one: The history of colonialism was a major factor in the development of English. Follow the global spread of English starting with the Roman invasion.
Part two: The history of colonialism was a major factor in the development of English. Follow the global spread of English from the 17th century to the present day.
This short online course is an introduction to the relationship between language and creativity, to the roles that linguistic creativity plays in culture and society, and to the different approaches to its study. It includes a specific focus on the relationship between language and visual art. It comprises 8 hours of study at an intermediate level
This short online course examines how children’s books use words and pictures together in sophisticated ways to communicate both to young and older readers. It includes examples from the classics, such as Beatrix Potter’s Tales of Peter Rabbit, as well as contemporary children’s authors such as Anthony Browne, author of Gorilla.