Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage : The Great Courses: Linguistics

  • by The Great Courses, John McWhorter
  • Narrated by Professor John McWhorter
  • Series: The Great Courses: Linguistics
  • 12 hrs and 18 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

Conventional wisdom suggests English is going to the dogs, that bad grammar, slang, and illogical constructions signal a decline in standards of usage - to say nothing of the corruption wrought by email and text messages.
But English is a complicated, marvelous language. Far from being a language in decline, English is the product of surprisingly varied linguistic forces, some of which have only recently come to light. And these forces continue to push English in exciting new directions.
These 24 eye-opening lectures dispel the cloud of confusion that clings to English, giving you a crystal-clear view of why we use it the way we do and where it fits into the diverse languages of the world. Like an archaeologist sifting through clues to a vanished civilization, you'll uncover the many features of English that sound normal to a native speaker but that linguists find puzzling and also revealing.
For example, the only languages that use "do" the way English does (as in "do not walk") are the Celtic languages such as Welsh, which were spoken by people who lived among the early English and influenced their language in many subtle ways.
You'll also delight in considering modern controversies about how English is used. For example, "Billy and me went to the store" is considered incorrect, because the subject form, "I," should be used instead of "me." But then why does "Me and Billy went to the store" sound so much more fluent than "I and Billy went to the store"?
These examples and many more represent a few of the flash points in English's long history of defying rules, a process that occurs in all languages. You'll come away from this course with every reason to be a proud, informed, and more self-aware speaker of English.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

This course will turn you into a linguistics fan!

Any additional comments?

I never had any particular interest in linguistics, but I LOVE The Great Courses, and if you follow their Facebook page, you learn pretty quickly that two linguistics professors (John McWhorter and Anne Curzan) are constantly getting rave recommendations from listeners.

As a result, I have now taken the plunge, and thanks to The Great Courses, I am in danger of becoming a linguistics nut.

The title of the course (Myths, Lies, and Half-truths of Language Usage) is really just a provocative way to say that this comprehensive survey of the English language is guaranteed to bust any preconceptions you had about "proper" English.

John McWhorter is quick-witted, quirky, and clearly an expert in his field. Unlike with some professors, you won't be tempted to use the speed controls on your Audible app to speed him up. He moves quickly and packs a ton of information, stories, and silly asides into every 30 minute lecture. You get your money's worth.

Professor McWhorter covers the complete history of how English evolved to it's present-day state (or states, to be more accurate), making the point repeatedly that modern English is itself filled with shortcuts and bastardizations of its ancestors, all for the sake of economy and clarity.

You'll learn that prescriptivist notions of "proper" English never even emerged until the arrival of the printing press, and the first dictionaries didn't come until centuries later. So the notion that proper language usage is a fixed thing, frozen in time, is a relatively new phenomenon.

So be warned. If you are looking to learn what's "proper," you will likely be frustrated by McWhorter or any of the other linguistics offerings from The Great Courses. McWhorter repeatedly hammers home the point that language is fluid, and like it or not, all the grammar teachers in the world could never stop language in it's tracks.

Overall, a fun listen. The Great Courses has three other titles by McWhorter, and I will be buying them all!

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- Quaker

The "funnest" book on language ever

Prof. McWhorter maintains that "funnest" is not a word you can use, but I'll bet he knows what I mean.

Maybe the best thing I can say about this lecture series is that, like a very good and compelling novel, I found myself driving around the block or listening in the garage because I found it so engaging. On one hand, I didn't want it to end, but on the other, I did so that I could write a glowing review.

So many interesting tidbits about English and other languages and how words and expressions evolved. He gives great examples - some very humorous. He explains the difference between spoken and written language; in all languages, spoken is much more casual and less rigid than written, which allows you to plan, go back and re-write and edit (as I'm dong now) what's being written. He maintains that language is always evolving and will always continue to, and that the new electronic ways of communicating - e-mail, texting, IM, are really more like speach than writing. He finds no linguistic problem with these forms nor does he feel that they will affect the written language in a bad way.

He's very entertaining, easy to understand and skirts around socially offensive "bad" words without actually saying them, but in a very funny way.

I'll mention the applause between lectures as I did for another of the Great Courses Lecture series. I think it should be done away with - it's distracting.
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- SamanthaG

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-08-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses