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Language A to Z | [The Great Courses, John McWhorter]

Language A to Z

Linguistics, the study of language, has a reputation for being complex and inaccessible. But here's a secret: There's a lot that's quirky and intriguing about how human language works-and much of it is downright fun to learn about. But with so many potential avenues of exploration, it can often seem daunting to try to understand it. Where does one even start?
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Publisher's Summary

Linguistics, the study of language, has a reputation for being complex and inaccessible. But here's a secret: There's a lot that's quirky and intriguing about how human language works-and much of it is downright fun to learn about. But with so many potential avenues of exploration, it can often seem daunting to try to understand it. Where does one even start?

In these twenty-four 15-minute lectures by one of the best-known popularizes of language, you'll discover a delightful way to get accessible, bite-sized introductions to language. Using the English alphabet as a unique, offbeat way to approach the subject, Professor McWhorter has crafted a hopscotch tour of some of the field's major topics, hot-button issues, and more.

You'll learn why it can actually be OK to use slang like "LOL." Why English speakers don't use words like "thou" and "thee" anymore. What makes "mama" and "papa" a child's first words-in many languages. How popular rhymes like "Eeny, meeny, miney, moe") actually derive from the words for numbers in an early relative of Welsh. Why "like" is here to stay in common American speech. And much more.

These and other fascinating topics are all delivered in Professor McWhorter's light-hearted yet informative teaching style, which makes this series essential for anyone looking for a welcoming window into the quirks, curiosities, and intricacies of how language works. Filled with humor, whimsy, and no shortage of insights, it's a fast-paced tour of the same territory linguists tread each and every day.

©2012 The Great Courses (P)2012 The Teaching Company, LLC

What Members Say

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  •  
    Jacobus Johannesburg, South Africa 05-06-14
    Jacobus Johannesburg, South Africa 05-06-14 Member Since 2013

    When I drive, I read... uhm listen. I like SciFi, Fantasy, some Detective and Espionage novels and Religion. Now and then I will also listen to something else.

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    "A genious Miscelany of linguistic topics"

    Prof. John McWhorter, linguist and English lecturer at the University of Columbia fires off like a rocket bringing linguistics to the listener through 24 short 15 minute mini-lectures from A-Z. He uses the alphabet to introduce the listener to some interesting facts about the mishmash of languages spoken in the world.

    He starts the course at an enormous pace and peppers you with a lot of information. Initially I thought that I would opt out due to the pace against which he presents. I managed to stuck in there and was not disappointed. He knows a lot about languages.

    From a South African perspective just the following: Xhosa is not pronounced Chosa as if it should start with a fricative, but with a clicking sound like that of the clicking languages that he describes. His pronunciation of the language called Afrikaans was also lacking. Despite that, he brings tremendous insight into languages and their structures. Highlights are "H for Hobbits" and "R for R-lessness"

    If you want a fun-filled and highly informative course, this one is for you.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    C. Telfair Shepherdstown, WV, United States 01-22-15
    C. Telfair Shepherdstown, WV, United States 01-22-15

    Audible has changed my life! Dry , itchy eyes were destroying one of my greatest pleasures - reading. Now I am experiencing books again!

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    "Gobsmacked!"

    Now this is something fun and different from the venerable "Great Courses." I love them, but they tend to be considerably longer and more scholarly than "Language A to Z".

    Not that Professor McWhorter doesn't know his stuff. He is a speaker who helps put the "great" in these courses! I've listened to more than one of his audios and really respect his knowledge and teaching ability.

    Whether or not you are interested in linguistics, I would recommend listening to this course. It goes by in a minute (every lecture is only 15 of them!), and there's lots of pop culture references and interesting revelations about the origins of some of our strangest sayings.

    This is a great highway listen - and an enjoyable way to learn something in 15 minutes!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John S. Seattle, WA United States 11-24-14
    John S. Seattle, WA United States 11-24-14 Member Since 2013
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    "Well worth a credit"

    Yes, the author does get carried away with his own schtick at times; however, he's usually informative and funny enough to easily carry what could be dry subject matter if handled differently.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carolyn 06-14-14
    Carolyn 06-14-14
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    "A wild ride"
    Would you listen to Language A to Z again? Why?

    I may well listen to parts of this again it was one of the most entertaining courses I have listened to. This professor seems brilliant and almost hypomanic, with funny asides and facilitating insights into the nature and meaning of language.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Language A to Z?

    I loved the part where he speculates about the change in complexity of language on the island of Flores. He makes you hope it's is because of the hobbits, but he offers a less exciting and probably more realistic explanation as well. I also liked hearing him pronounce and talk about the click languages. The origin of the loss of Rs on the east coast and England was also interesting.


    Have you listened to any of Professor John McWhorter’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    I have never heard this professor before.


    If you could give Language A to Z a new subtitle, what would it be?

    A manic romp through the wonderful world of language.


    Any additional comments?

    Thank you again audible for including the Great Courses.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ted Smith Salt Lake City 05-04-14
    Ted Smith Salt Lake City 05-04-14 Member Since 2012

    Reviewer from Utah

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    "Thoroughly Enjoyable"
    Would you listen to Language A to Z again? Why?

    Absolutely. This isn't serious linguistics, but more a picaresque trip through some great linguistic stories (which teach some linguistics).

    Professor McWhorter is a compelling lecturer and natural storyteller. And he knows linguistics.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Katherine Mason, OH, United States 02-06-15
    Katherine Mason, OH, United States 02-06-15 Member Since 2010

    I love to read mysteries, histories, biographies, humor, and Jane Austen.

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    "Who knew linguistics could be such fun?"

    Professor John McWhorter is fascinating and entertaining as he takes us through a whirlwind tour of linguistics, presented via assorted topics from A to Z. His teaching style is fresh and engaging. I only wish each lecture was longer than 15 minutes - they finish far too soon! Prof. McWhorter is now my favorite lecturer in the Great Courses Series - and that is saying a lot. Strongly recommended!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer TALLAHASSEE, FL, United States 07-25-14
    Amazon Customer TALLAHASSEE, FL, United States 07-25-14 Member Since 2013
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    "This is mostly about English - not languages"

    This course is good for people who want to hear an anecdotal overview of how the English language has changed over the course of time with a few side excursions into a few other languages. It is not the general overview of languages that it was advertised to be.

    Professor John McWhorter does a good job with the narration, and as he is so good at mimicking various people and intonations, I think he should seriously consider becoming a professional narrator. It's not that his normal voice is so great, it's just that he does such a fantastic job with other voices.

    There are a few other languages besides English that are mentioned, but English takes up somewhere around 80% of the discusssion. McWhorter is amusing, although I found some of the comedic schtick to be annoying and overdone. He tells stories to illustrate the way language (again, mostly English) has changed over the years and explains the background of some interesting expressions.

    I wasn't particularly impressed, but then, I was looking for a general overview of language, not a cutesy description of the changing patterns of English, and I felt that this course was misadvertised. If you're really interested in English, this audiobook is great, just be aware that a discussion of English is what you're getting.

    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
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    Angela Knoxville, TN, USA 06-13-14
    Angela Knoxville, TN, USA 06-13-14 Member Since 2012
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    "A lecture series as entertainment"

    This is an interesting topic read by a skilled lecturer. No bad stuff happens in it - you won't cry, although you might laugh - and you can forget about politics and global warming and warfare for awhile - and just learn about something that evolves naturally - language. Each lecture is 15 minutes long, so there are no great demands on your time if you can only listen in bits and pieces. Well worth the credit.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Danny Kopping Johannesburg, South Africa 05-13-14
    Danny Kopping Johannesburg, South Africa 05-13-14 Member Since 2009
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    "Masterful McWhorter"
    Where does Language A to Z rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Very high - fascinating listening, perfect for in-car or in-bed listening. Short, digestible chapters


    What did you like best about this story?

    McWhorter's presentation skills are superb. He is witty, insightful and informative


    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    G INDIANAPOLIS, IN, United States 05-05-14
    G INDIANAPOLIS, IN, United States 05-05-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Fantastic Listen!"
    Would you listen to Language A to Z again? Why?

    Yes, it was an informative and fun listen.


    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    The sections are compact and you know which letter is coming next!


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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