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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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    3 out of 5 stars
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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.

10 people found this helpful

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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.

20 people found this helpful

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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!

19 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.

5 people found this helpful

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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.

5 people found this helpful

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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.

4 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.

6 people found this helpful

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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 people found this helpful

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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

4 people found this helpful

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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.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Fiona
  • 09-14-20

Fabulous insight and superb delivery

What a superb presenter - I can’t see how the lecture delivery could be improved. The lectures move quickly, but just at the right pace including John McWhorter’s amazing accents and funny asides. I’ve only ever studied European languages and this has given me a very useful perspective to see how languages sit together and develop. I would thoroughly recommend the book

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  • Kira Adams
  • 01-10-19

Hugely entertaining albeit a little shallow

This is the third Great Courses lecture set by John McWhorter I have listened to, and although I have enjoyed all of them equally, this one did was a little different from the others. This “course” takes the form of 24 short talks, each covering a topic inspired by a letter of the alphabet. As such, it’s kind of reminiscent of QI: entertaining tidbits of trivia. It’s perfectly set up to listen to as “mini episodes” as and when you wish, in any order you wish, as opposed to the other courses which are much more structured. However, this is also its downfall: the bite-size nature of the set means that it is much shallower than the other two courses. John McWhorter is, as always, a hugely engaging and entertaining lecturer and I cannot fault him. In fact, this lecture so it might be the perfect introduction to him for listeners who are more interested in something that they can pick up and put down rather than a more “heavy” course.

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  • Guðrún Pétursdóttir
  • 08-23-18

Nice introduction to linguistics

For anyone even mildly interested in languages or just words in general and the best part is that it's not just English although it is a kind of point of departure for most lecturers. Just wished they were longer. McWorther is very knowledgeable about his subject but makes sure to "dumb" it down without patronizing his listener, and he seems to be having a lot of fun it too. Note he is a bit hyperactive but it makes it fun although it might be annoying to begin with, you will get used to it.

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  • Anand Manu
  • 01-17-17

Great easy to understand intro into the subject

this is a great way to start to learn and become more interesred in lingusitics.
the narator is fun, interesting and makes the talks fun and engaging.