What Language Is by John McWhorter
(And What It Isn't and What It Could Be)

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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.


About John McWhorter

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Renowned linguist JOHN MCWHORTER is the author of more than a dozen books, including the New York Times bestseller Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America and Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue. He teaches linguistics and western civilization at Columbia University, is a contributing editor at The New Republic, and has appeared widely in the media. He lives in New York.
Published August 4, 2011 by Gotham. 240 pages
Genres: Education & Reference. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Linguist and New Republic contributing editor McWhorter (Linguistics and Western Civilization/Columbia Univ.; Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English, 2008, etc.) returns with a discussion of what languages are, and some insightful thoughts about why we view some as "primiti...

Jul 21 2011 | Read Full Review of What Language Is (And What I...

Publishers Weekly

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The King's English topples from the throne of linguistic legitimacy in this rollicking tour of human language. Columbia University linguist and bestselling author McWhorter (Losing the Race: Self-Sabo

Apr 25 2011 | Read Full Review of What Language Is (And What I...

New York Journal of Books

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“If there is something [John McWhorter] doesn’t do well, we won’t find it in his new work, What Language Is .

Aug 04 2011 | Read Full Review of What Language Is (And What I...

The Columbus Dispatch

languages he discusses in this energetic, brisk and often amusing analysis of how language.

Aug 07 2011 | Read Full Review of What Language Is (And What I...


Individuals who grow up in nonliterary environments - I was one - routinely shape their spoken English in relation to written language, particularly literary language.

Sep 04 2011 | Read Full Review of What Language Is (And What I...

Bookmarks Magazine

By jonMon, 08/29/2011 - 09:39.

Aug 29 2011 | Read Full Review of What Language Is (And What I...

Englewood Review of Books

McWhorter argues that 1) all language is inherently messy anyway, and 2) technology only gives us a new dialect, not a new language.

Oct 28 2011 | Read Full Review of What Language Is (And What I...

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