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

by John McWhorter

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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 |
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To those who disagreed with me,
and to Lara (1996-2010)
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Languages are ingrown --Language is dissheveled [sic] --Language is intricate --Language is oral --Language is mixed --This view of language.
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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)

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