What Language Is: And What It Isn't and What It Could Be

What Language Is: And What It Isn't and What It Could Be

by John McWhorter

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New York Times bestselling author and renowned linguist, John McWhorter, explores the complicated and fascinating world of languages. From Standard English to Black English; obscure tongues only spoken by a few thousand people in the world to the big ones like Mandarin - What Language Is celebrates the history and curiosities of languages around the world and smashes our assumptions about "correct" grammar.

An eye-opening tour for all language lovers, What Language Is offers a fascinating new perspective on the way humans communicate. From vanishing languages spoken by a few hundred people to major tongues like Chinese, with copious revelations about the hodgepodge nature of English, John McWhorter shows readers how to see and hear languages as a linguist does. Packed with Big Ideas about language alongside wonderful trivia, What Language Is explains how languages across the globe (the Queen's English and Surinam creoles alike) originate, evolve, multiply, and divide. Raising provocative questions about what qualifies as a language (so-called slang does have structured grammar), McWhorter also takes readers on a marvelous journey through time and place-from Persian to the languages of Sri Lanka- to deliver a feast of facts about the wonders of human linguistic expression.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101572818
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/02/2012
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 577,252
File size: 4 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

John McWhorter is the author of the bestseller Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language, and four other books. He is associate professor of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and a contributing editor to The City Journal and The New Republic. He has been profiled in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and has appeared on Dateline NBC, Politically Incorrect, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Languages are Ingrown 15

Chapter 2 Language is Dissheveled 61

Chapter 3 Language is Intricate 93

Chapter 4 Language is Oral 134

Chapter 5 Language is Mixed 167

Epilogue: This View of Language 199

Notes on Sources 207

Acknowledgments 215

Index 217

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What Language Is 2.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
JustSomeYahoo More than 1 year ago
I suppose I was expecting more of a discussion of language as a mode of communication. This it was not. Rather, it is a discussion about the variously different ways language is structured; the idioms of oral communication. The author, in fact, uses the word IDIOM as an acronym reminder for each of the chapter subjects; Ingrown, Dissheveled, Intricate, Oral, Mixed. This technique has its uses but tends to lead into repetition of the same information from different perspectives. But even so, the presentations are useful and clarifying. While I do not think an explanation of "What Language Is" was fully discussed, what was discussed in the way of comparative grammars was excellent; far beyond my own non-technical background and presented in a way that I could easily grasp. I went 4-star because I am thoroughly enjoying the book but did not find any philosophical discussion on the nature of exchanging concepts and ideas. I had expected some reference to Boole and/or Frege and how the concepts of programming languages fit in. But that seems to not be a consideration here. Rather he discusses langauge families, similarities in development of modern Persian and English, compared with, say Pashto, which has a source the same as modern Persian but us far more complex. Then, the complexity of verb forms, the practice of suffixing and prefixing, sentence construction, historical influence of migratory patterns and political dominance on word and grammar evolution (wouldn't say language development here because it seems more like change and simplication over time), are what he discusses well. For me, it gives me better occasion to stop and pause as I consider my own ability to conceive and think being structured and influenced by my own native language (American style English). I found this very useful and educational. A strong case is made for nothing being inherently correct in language. Correct is a matter of convention, use, and popular understanding. I recall some of Noah Websters labored rules for spelling; when to use gh for the f sound (like in "enough") versus when to use it as a silent appendage (like in "though"). It seems silly to engage in justifications and reasons why a language behaves as it does when convention and acceptance in a population make it so. Of course, to disregard accepted convention purposely is to break down on a present utility of a given language. I would think that anyone with an interest in langauge as a subject would find this book useful and educational.
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marc0 More than 1 year ago
I would have love to have been able to read this book but B&N formatted it so it's not compatible with my simple touch. So I'm going to buy it from Amazon using my wife's Kindle. Great business model.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago