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

by John McWhorter

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2328106,473 (4.03)11
"A provocative look at how languages originate, divide, multiply, and work"--P. [2] of jacket.

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» See also 11 mentions

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John Mcwhorter talking about language is interesting and melodious but becomes overwhelming after a while. John McWhorter writing about language is also interesting, but I don't have any idea of how the words sound. There should be print books that say the words; that would be ideal.
  themulhern | Dec 30, 2020 |
He covers a lot of the same territory in his podcast, Lexicon Valley. I liked the book, but didn't love the book. (And now of course I am contemplating the etymology and grammar of this review! Podcast is a great example of a compound word that is now definitely a Thing!) ( )
  charlyk | Nov 15, 2019 |
John McWhorter offers us a linguists'-eye view of language, considering questions like: what does it mean for a language to have a simple grammar vs a complex one, and what is it that causes the difference? He also explores a lot of ways in which the understanding and perspective of people who study language for a living can be very, very different from the intuitive assumptions of those of us who merely speak it, including questions of what's a "real" language (as opposed to sloppy, mistaken, or wrong language, or "primitive" or "impure" language), and what kinds of characteristics are "normal" in a language. (English, it turns out, is a little strange in some ways -- albeit ones that make perfect sense given its history -- and isn't the greatest standard by which to judge normality.)

McWhorter does go into a lot more depth than I was expecting, or, honestly, than I thought I was quite in the mood for, including lots and lots of (sometimes slightly technical) examples from languages both familiar and obscure. But I quickly became utterly fascinated by it all. It helps that he writes in a very accessible style, sprinkling the text with occasional dorky jokes, dorky references, or odd little personal asides. If you're familiar with his Lexicon Valley podcast -- and if you have an interest in language, it's worth a listen -- the book feels much the same in tone, it's just that he gets to take a much deeper dive into things than a half-hour podcast would ever allow.

I found it meaty, insightful, informative, and well worthwhile. Despite having already read a few other books on more or less the same subject, I feel like I've come out of it more enlightened than I went in. ( )
1 vote bragan | Sep 1, 2017 |
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 |
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To those who disagreed with me,
and to Lara (1996-2010)
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"A provocative look at how languages originate, divide, multiply, and work"--P. [2] of jacket.

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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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