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Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage | [The Great Courses, John McWhorter]

Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage

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.
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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.

Disclaimer: Please note that this recording may include references to supplemental texts or print references that are not essential to the program and not supplied with your purchase.

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

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  •  
    Tony san antonio, TX, United States 07-18-13
    Tony san antonio, TX, United States 07-18-13 Member Since 2006
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    "Easy Introduction to Linguistics"

    How many times have you heard someone complain about the death of the English Language? Or that text message is creating a generation of uneducated idiots that will never be able to use the language in any meaningful way? McWhorter addresses these ideas and many more. He shows how all of this new usage continues the path the language has been on for hundreds of years. How about all of those stilted rules about split infinitives or no prepositions at the end of sentences? These are examples of misguided 19th century ideas to make English more like Latin that became fashionable in our grammar.

    With his breezy style and sometimes quirky asides, Professor McWhorter brings life into these lectures and creates an enjoyable listening experience.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    SamanthaG Marietta GA 02-17-14
    SamanthaG Marietta GA 02-17-14 Member Since 2010

    SamanthaG

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    "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.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Quaker Philadelphia 11-15-13
    Quaker Philadelphia 11-15-13 Member Since 2012
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    "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!

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    M. S. Cohen New York, NY USA 12-10-13
    M. S. Cohen New York, NY USA 12-10-13 Member Since 2003
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    "Fantastic! Never expected this to be so much fun"

    McWhorter is one of the best teachers I have ever had.

    Energetic. Funny. Spontaneous! Educational!

    Even if you never wanted to learn about the English language, you should listen to this book.

    There are so many things in it about history, social history, language (of course), and grammar.

    And I will try to use the phrase "obsessive progressive" as much as I can in daily life. (You'll understand when you listen to the book.)

    Please, don't let the fact that this is a language course stop you. It's well worth every minute. (Although I confess I listen at 1.5 speed, but his voice doesn't suffer.)

    Anyone who enjoys bill Bryson will enjoy Professor McWhorter

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nancy Waterloo, ON, Canada 03-05-14
    Nancy Waterloo, ON, Canada 03-05-14 Member Since 2010

    I love learning, teaching, and exploring!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Langauge treasures"

    This course was very interesting! The lecturer takes a rather non-traditional view about modern English language usage. He argues that several common grammar rules are based on preference rather than any sort of logic. His arguments are detailed and informative. He also provides some background on many other languages and explains how the English language is related. There are so many things that I learned about language during this course!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jorge Brussel, Belgium 10-31-13
    Jorge Brussel, Belgium 10-31-13 Member Since 2013
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    "Excellent"
    What made the experience of listening to Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage the most enjoyable?

    Well, this professor has a gift, he is able to talk, no matter what he says, you will not want to stop listening to him.


    What other book might you compare Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage to and why?

    The History of language


    Which character – as performed by Professor John McWhorter – was your favorite?

    There are not characters here, these are lectures, but Professor John McWhorter is a character on his own, I love when he pronounces different languages, his voice changes completely


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    not the kind of cry or laugh reaction, but makes you think, a lot.


    Any additional comments?

    the only danger I have with this professor is to believe everything he stays, but after thinking coldly, there are some points which could raise some discussion, pity this is a recording and I do not have the chance to ask him

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Benoibe New Orleans, LA, United States 06-10-14
    Benoibe New Orleans, LA, United States 06-10-14 Member Since 2010

    Audio-addict!!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "So much fun!!! Best of the best!"

    Well I've listened to Prof McWhorter before, but never like this!!! These are his FINEST MOMENTS!!! He is so much fun in these lectures that it's like a different man from the last series I listened with him. (I still liked him then, he was just very serious. It was a serious topic.)
    I'm not sure when this lecture series falls in his many Great Courses lectures on language, but it reminds me of the last week of school-- like this must be a later lecture for him bc he is so confident and funny. It's so much fun, and EVERYTHING is interesting!!!!
    The best of the best!!
    Content- it's about the English language and how it was formed but not too technical and very different from any English language book or course to which I've listened. It's the nuances I've never thought about. And it's very interesting. It's more than worth a listen for anyone remotely interested in words, English, or language in general. And if you like the prof, you will LOVE this. If you've listened to him and not liked him--- PLEASE GET THIS, you will find a whole new level to McWhorter and you'll love it!

    4 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Christopher SEATTLE, WA, United States 10-07-13
    Christopher SEATTLE, WA, United States 10-07-13 Member Since 2008

    c45207

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    "If you've studied some linguistics, skip it"
    Any additional comments?

    If you haven't had any linguistics, go for it. You'll find this course series worth the time. Prof. McWhorter has a very natural lecture style and can convey the concepts clearly and interestingly.

    If you've studied some linguistics (e.g., if you've take a 100-level university linguistics survey course already), you've probably already been exposed to all the content in this lecture series.

    4 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Scott Bentleyville, OH, United States 06-23-14
    Scott Bentleyville, OH, United States 06-23-14 Member Since 2007
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    "Enjoyed thoroughly - you will enjoy this professor"

    This is the second lecture I purchased from professor McWhorter. If you are a believer in the philosophy "take classes from great teachers, regardless of the subject" you will not be dissapointed. I listened to one of his other linguistic lectures and I was so happy with his performance and presentation I was compelled to try one of his other lectures. He is able to convey a great deal of information in a casual and entertaining series. One of the best I have listened to from learning company.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Adria Carberry MB 01-07-14
    Adria Carberry MB 01-07-14 Member Since 2008
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    "Fascinating history"
    What made the experience of listening to Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage the most enjoyable?

    Very interesting for anyone interested in language and history. Mostly discussed from an American point of view with many Americanisms which are not an issue in other parts of the world where English is spoken as a first language. Many grammatical issues are problems for Americans only, not for the rest of us.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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