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About the Author

John H. McWhorter is Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.


Works by John McWhorter

The Story of Human Language (2004) 227 copies
Language A to Z (2013) — Author — 82 copies
Defining Creole (2005) 17 copies
Ancient Writing and the History of the Alphabet (2023) — Author — 12 copies
The Creole Debate (2018) 9 copies
How Language Works (2018) 2 copies

Associated Works

The Best American Magazine Writing 2003 (2003) — Contributor — 71 copies
What’s Language Got to Do with It? (2005) — Contributor — 51 copies
Time Magazine 2010.12.06 (2010) — Contributor — 1 copy


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Common Knowledge

Canonical name
McWhorter, John
Legal name
McWhorter V, John Hamilton
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Places of residence
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Oakland, California, USA
Friends Select School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Bard College at Simon's Rock (AA)
Rutgers University (BA|French|1985)
New York University (MA|American Studies)
Stanford University (PhD|Linguistics|1993)
political commentator
Manhattan Institute
University of California, Berkeley
Katinka Matson
Short biography
John McWhorter is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to The New Republic, he has taught linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley and has been widely profiled in the media.  [adapted from loc.gov, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue (2008)]



I cannot be the only one who giggled all through the Shit chapter.
Bookmarque | 11 other reviews | Mar 26, 2024 |
A linguistics book for the lay reader, it is like listening to an excellent lecturer argue his opinions on his subject of expertise at a casual get-together with friends who are not in academia. McWhorter here takes on what he calls the "official history" of English, which in his persuasive view has made significant mistakes.

Whereas the "official history" decided that the Celtic languages had little to no impact on English, McWhorter argues that speakers of Welsh and Cornish changed English grammar to a significant degree, applying the very different grammar rules of their native tongue to the new Old English tongue they learned from the Anglo-Saxon invaders. This explains why “Said she to my daughter that my father alone come is and himself better feels” makes no sense in English, whereas a similar construction would in any other Germanic language. It's the Celtic grammar making our English sentence construction so different from our language cousins. This happened because the native Celts were likely to have hung around as a majority of the population rather than being comprehensively slaughtered as the "official history" has it, so their changes to Old English stuck. Celtic also gave to English the "meaningless 'do'", as in "Do you want it?" instead of just "You want it?" This makes me want to start a band and name it Meaningless Do...

When the waves of Vikings invaded centuries later, these people spoke Old Norse. McWhorter argues that an effect of all these adult males learning the language spoken in this land they'd just settled in, and taken wives from, is that they simplified it a lot, ie, spoke it "wrong". Thus English dropped a lot of features such as gendered nouns and case endings in the mouths of the "English Vikings", and they passed this battered language down to their children. These changes from Old English to Middle English are evident first in North England and gradually spreading southwards, which corresponds with the fact that the Vikings concentrated in the North.

Aside from other arguments in the book, McWhorter makes a plea I'm very sympathetic to: we shouldn't fret over our language continuing to evolve and change. Language always has. There is no such thing as "pure" English; it has been beaten up and changed massively already. No one would argue that we shouldn't speak this "perverted" modern English and go back to Old English. So if people start saying "who" when they 'should' say "whom"... eh, so what. English has lost lots of case markers already.

Entertaining and informative.
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lelandleslie | 43 other reviews | Feb 24, 2024 |
The etymologies are fun, and McWhorter's voice is just so affable, but I'm actually kind of sick of curse words with exhaustingly overloaded meaning. I just won't ever want to talk like that, so I will never learn to talk like that.

Most interesting etymology: "science" and "sh-t" are surprisingly closely connected, both deriving from a verb meaning something like "to cut".

I think McWhorter is so caught up in language that he loses track of the fact that some peole just like to know a few generic insults that they can call other people and that "racist" has become that thing, that all-purpose generic insult. It is a question whether it will last, though.… (more)
themulhern | 11 other reviews | Feb 21, 2024 |
I found this discussion of the actual history of the English language delightful. This was not a surprise, as I have enjoyed other books by Mr. McWhorter, as well as the podcast he inherited, "Lexicon Valley." Anyone looking for a compelling, insightful, and eminently readable argument for how English developed could do no better than Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue.
libwen | 43 other reviews | Feb 9, 2024 |



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