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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.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.


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

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  •  
    Quaker Philadelphia 11-15-13
    Quaker Philadelphia 11-15-13 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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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!

    21 of 21 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.

    14 of 14 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 2012
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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

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tony san antonio, TX, United States 07-18-13
    Tony san antonio, TX, United States 07-18-13 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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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.

    12 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    MR Hub of the Universe 04-30-15
    MR Hub of the Universe 04-30-15 Member Since 2005

    mr_1

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    "interesting"
    Any additional comments?

    Some very interesting points were made - but I feel like some points were propped up with very skewed data. The author cited a study with minute sample sizes to back his pet theory (admittedly the author noted that it was a VERY small sample size which didn't prove the point conclusively) but no data on other interpretations was given. I didn't feel there was a lot of balance. Any theory the author believed in was touted - proof or no. While things the author didn't believe in were left unexamined.Toward the end of the book I felt this attitude of the author to be a bit grating.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nancy Waterloo, ON, Canada 03-05-14
    Nancy Waterloo, ON, Canada 03-05-14 Member Since 2014

    I love learning, teaching, and exploring!

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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!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    06-23-14
    06-23-14 Member Since 2013
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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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jorge Brussel, Belgium 10-31-13
    Jorge Brussel, Belgium 10-31-13 Member Since 2015
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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

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Christopher 10-07-13
    Christopher 10-07-13 Member Since 2015

    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.

    8 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Randall D. Raymond Evans, GA USA 12-13-14
    Randall D. Raymond Evans, GA USA 12-13-14 Member Since 2009

    randytoad

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Deserves at least a six star rating"

    This is undoubtedly the best course and possibly the best audible product I've ever listened to. Not only is the content fascinating, but Professor McWhorter is an absolute genius as a lecturer. He explains sometimes difficult concepts with crystal clarity and spices things up with funny illustrations, humorous asides and even an occasional song.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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  • andy
    12/1/14
    Overall
    Performance
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    "Thought provoking and thoroughly enjoyable"
    If you could sum up Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage in three words, what would they be?

    educational, entertaining and enjoyable


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

    Prof McWhorter's other lecture series on the history of language because they are both of a high quality.


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

    This is the third of his lecture series I've heard and he never fails to engage and entertain whilst leadimh the listener through some challenging ideas.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    It's 18 hours long, so no.


    Any additional comments?

    I came away feeling like I'd really learnt something new and thoroughly enjoyed the process. This is how all learning should be.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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