Language Issues

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Linguist John McWhorter, a contributing editor at the New Republic and the author of What Language Is (And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be), talks about language and how we use it and change it.


John McWhorter

Comments [16]

larry block

John McWhorter's analysis is, to me, a perfect perception of the issue. Surely, today, a 'black' sounding voice is regarded as strong and husky and appealing - and it is. Johnny Cochrane would be turning in his grave - surrounded by his several wives, or at least their memeories; he, who so famously took offence at the notion that an African-American voice i identifiable. Sometimes 'correctness' is a liability. Thanks.

Aug. 14 2012 04:07 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Interesting -- John is sounder blacker these days. AND he bounced from the Manhattan Institute. Maybe he's getting the memos? I wish him well.

Aug. 14 2012 02:36 PM
Pat Hough from brooklyn

thank you brian and thanks john!
john, it was great to hear you articulate something I have been thinking about in recent weeks.

mittney's speech affect has a really chilling effect on me. (I refer to it as "1950's speak"). what concerns me is that mittney's mind set matches his speaking style eg. the attitude of "making america great again." it is all about going "back" to a better time. if he is elected, imagine how this 20th century attitude is going to play out, not only here in america, but on the world stage. In this new world we live in, I believe the desire or goal to go back to "the way it used to be" is frightening and seriously out of touch with reality. we need stay competitive on the world stage in adapting to a constantly changing 21st century global landscape. we need to embrace the future, even though it is uncertain.

Aug. 14 2012 11:27 AM
Robert from NYC

Why do you still stay Obama is from an African American tradition when his dad was African but left when he was a child and his mom was white, his grandparents were white and these are the people he grew up around and who influenced him most. There was no or very little African American influence in his young life. There was more Indonesian than African American. The African American influence came later in his life.
Obama is the perfect "mix". He is a model for America culturally and socially. I don't care for his politics anymore, but I sure look up to him culturally and socially. He looks comfortable whomever he's around.

Aug. 14 2012 11:06 AM
Cheryl Rogers from Newark

When black people get together, the "Black" accents comes out. The more raucous the event, the stronger it gets. If you are the only black person in the room, all that goes away.

Aug. 14 2012 11:00 AM
LP from Brooklyn

Mitt Romney has zero Mexican heritage. He is descended from white LDS missionaries who spent time in Mexico.

Aug. 14 2012 11:00 AM
Dorian from Manhattan

President Clinton use to range greatly in speech. Watch a few speeches and see differences between how he speaks to different audiences.

Aug. 14 2012 10:59 AM
Robert from NYC

Interesting that you bring this up and leave out how if a "non-member" of an ethnic or racial group talks about this, that "outsider" is a racist or some kind of anti-particular group. We all recognize the speech patterns and uses within and among different racial, ethnic, cultural, social, etc group and we should lighten up about talking about it to one another. We get our backs up too often and way too soon without listening and hearing what the speaker is saying.

Aug. 14 2012 10:54 AM
Nick from UWS

The "f word"? Jesus Christ, what are we, 7 years old? What is the matter with Americans that they will not grow up? What? When will America become an adult society?

Aug. 14 2012 10:54 AM
Karen from NYC

These are primarily class difference. I can't speak at home with my working class family in the same way -- vocabulary, tone, accent -- that I do with my friends or on the job (I'm a lawyer). I'm not talking about grammar, because my family speaks grammatically. I would be nailed as a snob if I spoke Manhattan-talk at home.

Romney is an upper-class guy and sounds like one. Obama is middle-class. He slips into black accents occasionally, but people like him because he sounds like an average, middle-class guy. I'll be if you heard him teaching at U of Chicago, he wouldn't be speaking either like Mitt Romney or Jesse Jackson: he'd sound like me on the job!

Aug. 14 2012 10:52 AM

@erchegu; you did

Aug. 14 2012 10:52 AM
erchegu from NYC

Did I just hear a linguist say, "...between President Obama and I?"

Aug. 14 2012 10:52 AM
john from office

A big problem for many african americans and hispanics in NYC is that they are unable to drop the lingo and are held back because of it. I had to learn to drop a very queens accent as a young adult.

Aug. 14 2012 10:51 AM
The Truth from Becky

Ex-squeeze me?? "Black Flavor"???

Aug. 14 2012 10:50 AM
Nick from UWS

Most Americans speak like children. A huge proportion of American women speak with the voice of a 6 year old girl.

Aug. 14 2012 10:50 AM

amazingly inane segment

Aug. 14 2012 10:47 AM

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