AirTalk for August 4, 2011

Linguistics across the globe

Mercer 19977

By John McWhorter

What Language Is (And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be)

With today’s ever multiplying options for communication, it’s easy to forget about the spoken word. John McWhorter explores how the 6000 languages around the world grew, changed and progressed over the past 150,000 years. Incorporating a genuine curiosity and understanding of other cultures, What Language Is, examines how languages across the globe have intermingled and at times, branched off to form new languages. According to McWhorter, there’s no such thing as improper grammar. If a group of people are communicating in a structured manner, that is, in itself, the very definition of grammar. McWhorter explains that while we’ve been talking for 150,000 years, we’ve only been writing for 5,500. Therefore language is inherently oral and the way it mutates over time is largely influenced by how it’s spoken. How then, does this affect the written word? When does a language decide to branch off from its “mother language” and stand on its own?

Guest:

John McWhorter, author of What Language Is (And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be); renowned linguist and author of more than a dozen books including Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America; teaches linguistics and western civilization at Columbia University


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