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Language A to Z  By  cover art

Language A to Z

By: John McWhorter,The Great Courses
Narrated by: John McWhorter
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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.

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 Great Courses (P)2012 The Teaching Company, LLC

What listeners say about Language A to Z

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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!

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24 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

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23 people found this helpful

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  • 11-04-17

More of a companion piece

You need listen to his Language Myths lecture first or you won't get the some of the quick references he makes. I imagine if I had listened to this first I would have been very confused when he kept off handily mentioning a Martian. I feel like this was meant to be a companion to that other lecture than a stand alone lecture. As a companion lecture it was fun to listen and get a glimpse of some some more obscure linguistical topics like click languages and tonal languages and current hypothesis about language origin.

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21 people found this helpful

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Entertaining, a bit lacking

It tries to list 26 linguistic topics based on the English alphabet, often with no logical connection to the topic that comes before or after. While it was entertaining to listen to, and has some useful nuggets of information, it feels a bit lacking.

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10 people found this helpful

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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.

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8 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

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.

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7 people found this helpful

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Fun intro to linguistics topics

Great lecturer -- funny, interesting. Worked completely fine as an audio.

I didn’t think I was particularly interested in linguistics but absolutely enjoyed this lecture series, so I would recommend it to any Great Courses fan. It was episodic – more like a podcast – rather than a systematic look at linguistics. In some ways, though, that made it better for listening while commuting, since each topic was well-contained.

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6 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

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    2 out of 5 stars

Dreadful

This course embodies all that is wrong in modern culture. To wit:
1. The lectures are far too short (15 min) presumably to accommodate the video-gamer's attention span.
2. The lecturer's delivery is so fast paced, it's dizzying and difficult to comprehend.
3. The delivery also suffers from his desire to throw in clever asides that are often not clever, not amusing, and simply distract from the point at hand.
4. The topics are random, unrelated, not developed.
5. The author has way too high an opinion of himself, comes across smug, self-righteous, overly familiar, gratingly condescending.

In short, a sort of potpourri of light little anecdotes of modest educational or entertainment value, but not a serious introduction to a serious subject.

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Entertainment not Education.

What was most disappointing about The Great Courses’s story?

In Language A to Z John McWhorter entertains rather than educates. He gaily skips across a bed of quick-sand (language and grammar). McWhorter neither stumbles nor falls. N’ere even gets a toe wet. I don’t want to drown in a sea of grammar but would have liked to, at least, get ankle deep or even knee deep. Every time I reached for a pencil to take a note I found that McWhorter had changed direction and was forging forward on a different train of thought. McWhorter is bright, knowledgeable and witty. Perfect for a cocktail party not for a Great Course!

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