Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

What Language Is: And What It Isn't and What…

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

by John McWhorter

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
158675,572 (4.12)7

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 7 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Readable, chatty, learned, and informative. ( )
  AmphipodGirl | Oct 14, 2014 |
A very fun (if somewhat disorganized) book about the linguist's views on languages. ( )
  jen.e.moore | Mar 30, 2013 |
Although McWhorter sometimes gets bogged down in the details, overall this is a fascinating and persuasive book. I plan to read his Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English next. ( )
  szarka | Oct 11, 2012 |
I'm hardly a linguist by any stretch, but I'm chatty and I love trivia. As someone learning a second language as an adult, I'm interested

The title -- and subtitle -- pretty succinctly summarizes the point of this book: what language is, isn't, and could be. Written for, I presume, an American audience (certainly an English-speaking audience), the book argues that 'normal' languages like English are in fact, not normal, and that many of the obscure, soon-to-be extinct languages spoken by small populations around the world are interesting, complicated, relevant, and evolved. More importantly, because a language isn't written doesn't mean it is less in value, importance, or sophistication.

I found this book a bit heavy at times, or more technical than I anticipated in a piece of popular non-fiction, but my wife found it very readable (but she also reads a lot of non-fiction). As the book progressed, I found it easier to understand -- either McWhorter's style grew less technical or I was starting to 'get' it.

Using 'idiom' as an acronym/frame, McWhorter's argument is that languages are ingrown, dissheveled, intricate, oral, and mixed. Some of this went over my head (the entire chapter on languages being ingrown might as well have been written in, well, a foreign language!) but other chapters immediately made sense. McWhorter helps by including charts and maps of the areas and languages he's referring to, which is immeasurably helpful.

McWhorter's writing, while very smart, also is humorous. He's someone who clearly loves what he does, and he loves untangling linguistic mysteries. Reading this was like hanging out with a very smart friend -- I might have gotten lost now and then, but ultimately, I enjoyed myself. ( )
  unabridgedchick | Aug 25, 2011 |
An absolute must for all libraries. My review may be read on my book review blog Rundpinne: http://www.rundpinne.com/2011/08/book-review-what-language-is-by-john-mcwhorter.... ( )
  knittingmomof3 | Aug 9, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
To those who disagreed with me,
and to Lara (1996-2010)
First words
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
Table of Contents:

Languages are ingrown --Language is dissheveled [sic] --Language is intricate --Language is oral --Language is mixed --This view of language.
Haiku summary

No descriptions found.

A tour of the world's languages throughout history offers insight into human communications while challenging popular beliefs about grammar, discussing such topics as the ways linguists hear speech, the world's vanishing languages, and the hodgepodge nature of English.… (more)

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
36 wanted

Popular covers


Average: (4.12)
3 4
3.5 1
4 12
4.5 1
5 7

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


You are using the new servers! | About | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 115,044,516 books! | Top bar: Always visible