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Talking Back, Talking Black: Truths About…

Talking Back, Talking Black: Truths About America's Lingua Franca

by John McWhorter

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Having read Dr. Geneva Smitherman's book on Black English many years ago, I was extremely interested in reading this book. McWhorter's book defends and supports that Black English is indeed a language. Well-written and researched, McWhorter continues the conversation on Black English and its use in American society. ( )
  AdwoaCamaraIfe | Feb 1, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
As a Black linguist, John McWhorter is ideally suited to write a book about "Black English", as he refers to what is more technically known as "African-American Vernacular English". In this slim volume, McWhorter manages to cover common misconceptions about this dialect (such as the common and entirely wrong belief that it is not a dialect at all, but instead a collection of slang and mistakes) as well as the history of the dialect and the general concept of code-switching, where speakers of multiple versions of a language seamlessly switch among them depending on context - Black English among family or friends, perhaps, and Standard English at work. He also discusses tangentially related concepts such as what it means for someone to "sound Black" in a context without grammatical or vocabulary indications.

As a white American with an interest in linguistics, the most interesting part for me were the details of the distinctive grammatical features of Black English, detailing specific usages like the "habitual be" and dropping of the possessive marker ('s). I didn't need the patient explanation that Black English is in fact a valid dialect - I doubt anyone who reads a book like this would, so I suspect people who view it as a collection of mistakes will not be reached to be convinced otherwise - but I'm glad it was there. ( )
  lorax | Nov 29, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
John McWhorter argues that "Black English" is a subsidiary language with its own grammar and history, like Haitian Creole or Sicilian. Rather then a chaotic mass of mistakes made by the uneducated, it's highly structured with consistent usage and rules. As a college writing teacher, this was a good reminder that some of my students, even if they were born in this country, could be speaking and writing an unfamiliar dialect in my class. As a general reader, however, this was a bit frustrating. McWhorter constantly refers to studies that support his claims but never describes them in detail or cites them in notes. In fact there are no notes. If we want to know more we're on our own. So McWhorter never gets into his topic in any real depth, he just skims on the surface, repeats himself, mentions studies he doesn't cite multiple times. This is a 5 star idea with 3 star execution. ( )
  susanbooks | Jul 14, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This was really interesting! I have a background in anthropology, though, including anthropological linguistics, so I'm not sure how someone without that would fare. I also wish he'd devoted a little more time talking about the culture-language interaction, but he's not a linguistic anthropologist so I'm not being fair. McWhorter also includes some discussion on making Black English more acceptable to the wider (and yes, mostly white) culture, which I really appreciated. This same section is also helpful for other dialects; I've successfully defended myself when I slipped into southern dialects more than once now by pointing out the linguistic usefulness.

I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.
  Watry | Jun 21, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
John McWhorter packs a big punch in this slim volume of essays about Black English. The books convincingly explains how Black English is a dialect deserving of respect, not "slang" or "bad grammar." The strongest part of the book is how he crafts his arguments to make them more politically compelling and, hopefully, better convince the public of the value of Black English. ( )
  zhejw | Jan 27, 2017 |
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"It has now been almost fifty years since linguistic experts began studying Black English as a legitimate speech variety, arguing to the public that it is different from Standard English, not a degradation of it. Yet false assumptions and controversies still swirl around what it means to speak and sound "black." In his first book devoted solely to the form, structure, and development of Black English, John McWhorter clearly explains its fundamentals and rich history, while carefully examining the cultural, educational, and political issues that have undermined recognition of this transformative, empowering dialect. Talking Back, Talking Black takes us on a fascinating tour of a nuanced and complex language that has moved beyond America's borders to become a dynamic force for today's youth culture around the world"--Publisher's description.

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