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Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care

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A rousing polemic in defense of the written word by the New York Times bestselling author of Losing the Race and the widely acclaimed history of language The Power of Babel. Critically acclaimed linguist John McWhorter has devoted his career to exploring the evolution of language. He has often argued that language change is inevitable and in general culturally neutral-lang A rousing polemic in defense of the written word by the New York Times bestselling author of Losing the Race and the widely acclaimed history of language The Power of Babel. Critically acclaimed linguist John McWhorter has devoted his career to exploring the evolution of language. He has often argued that language change is inevitable and in general culturally neutral-languages change rapidly even in indigenous cultures where traditions perpetuate; and among modernized peoples, culture endures despite linguistic shifts. But in his provocative new book, Doing Our Own Thing, McWhorter draws the line when it comes to how cultural change is turning the English language upside down in America today, and how public English is being overwhelmed by street English, with serious consequences for our writing, our music, and our society. McWhorter explores the triumph of casual over formal speech-particularly since the dawn of 1960s counterculture-and its effect on Americans' ability to write, read, critique, argue, and imagine. In the face of this growing rift between written English and spoken English, the intricate vocabularies and syntactic roadmaps of our language appear to be slipping away, eroding our intellectual and artistic capacities. He argues that "our increasing alienation from 'written language' signals a gutting of our intellectual powers, our self-regard as a nation, and thus our very substance as a people." Timely, thought-provoking, and compellingly written, Doing Our Own Thing is sure to stoke many debates about the fate of our threatened intellectual culture, and the destiny of our democracy.


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A rousing polemic in defense of the written word by the New York Times bestselling author of Losing the Race and the widely acclaimed history of language The Power of Babel. Critically acclaimed linguist John McWhorter has devoted his career to exploring the evolution of language. He has often argued that language change is inevitable and in general culturally neutral-lang A rousing polemic in defense of the written word by the New York Times bestselling author of Losing the Race and the widely acclaimed history of language The Power of Babel. Critically acclaimed linguist John McWhorter has devoted his career to exploring the evolution of language. He has often argued that language change is inevitable and in general culturally neutral-languages change rapidly even in indigenous cultures where traditions perpetuate; and among modernized peoples, culture endures despite linguistic shifts. But in his provocative new book, Doing Our Own Thing, McWhorter draws the line when it comes to how cultural change is turning the English language upside down in America today, and how public English is being overwhelmed by street English, with serious consequences for our writing, our music, and our society. McWhorter explores the triumph of casual over formal speech-particularly since the dawn of 1960s counterculture-and its effect on Americans' ability to write, read, critique, argue, and imagine. In the face of this growing rift between written English and spoken English, the intricate vocabularies and syntactic roadmaps of our language appear to be slipping away, eroding our intellectual and artistic capacities. He argues that "our increasing alienation from 'written language' signals a gutting of our intellectual powers, our self-regard as a nation, and thus our very substance as a people." Timely, thought-provoking, and compellingly written, Doing Our Own Thing is sure to stoke many debates about the fate of our threatened intellectual culture, and the destiny of our democracy.

30 review for Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Gatwood

    This is a fun read. McWhorter's digressions on pop culture and literature are great. That said, the book as a whole doesn't hold together very well. The central argument is too simple and some of the examples given are unconvincing. What's more, McWhorter is too honestly conflicted about his thesis to really drive the point home. Despite the abrasive title, he loves "low" culture for what it is and he studies it with the impartiality of a linguist. A more narrow-minded author might have written a This is a fun read. McWhorter's digressions on pop culture and literature are great. That said, the book as a whole doesn't hold together very well. The central argument is too simple and some of the examples given are unconvincing. What's more, McWhorter is too honestly conflicted about his thesis to really drive the point home. Despite the abrasive title, he loves "low" culture for what it is and he studies it with the impartiality of a linguist. A more narrow-minded author might have written a more satisfying polemic.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mark Jr.

    I'm a big McWhorter fan. His lecturing style, which is just like his writing style, is so engagingly brilliant. This was such a wonderful and odd book; it revealed more of ΜcWhorter's personality than previous reads and listens, specifically his dedication to musical theater—and the fact that his pop culture knowledge is almost scarily extensive. And that fact also points to a fundamental ambivalence—I almost said "equivocation"—in the book: does he really and truly lament the collapse in the dist I'm a big McWhorter fan. His lecturing style, which is just like his writing style, is so engagingly brilliant. This was such a wonderful and odd book; it revealed more of ΜcWhorter's personality than previous reads and listens, specifically his dedication to musical theater—and the fact that his pop culture knowledge is almost scarily extensive. And that fact also points to a fundamental ambivalence—I almost said "equivocation"—in the book: does he really and truly lament the collapse in the distance between casual English and the more elaborated written form of English that used to be common coin? He doesn't write in the formal language of yesteryear (and he knows this). He doesn't like poetry (and he knows this). He does draw the line, apparently, at the vapidness of much rap and pop. But he ends up providing reams of analysis with little explicit evaluation. There is implicit evaluation, the reader has to think, all the way along, but when the explicit evaluation comes it sputters. He doesn't think we can do anything to change our cultural-linguistic situation, and he's not even sure it's all bad (immigrants, for example, fare better in a cultural situation in which people aren't so prissy about English style). All he knows is that we have lost something we used to have. If anything, that something is love for our country, knowledge of and pride in its story—casual writing is a symptom of this malaise, he says. We're not proud of English because we're not proud to be Americans (or Brits as the case may be). That's not something a linguist, or any individual, can change. McWhorter's is the only book-level treatment of this topic I've read. I don't know a better analysis. But I'm not entirely persuaded by this one. Correlation and causation just cannot be established with perfect certainty on a culture-wide scale. But I honor him for trying, and I'll be meditating on his analysis for years to come, I think. He's already proven to be one of the stickiest writers I read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alex Allain

    The central argument of this book is that there is a qualitative difference between written and oral communication, that this difference is important, and that current culture privileges oral communication over written communication, to its detriment. Written communication differs from oral communication by being less overtly biased, more detailed--relying less on context and more thorough in presenting context, and more concise (oral communication is typically extraordinarily redundant). Written The central argument of this book is that there is a qualitative difference between written and oral communication, that this difference is important, and that current culture privileges oral communication over written communication, to its detriment. Written communication differs from oral communication by being less overtly biased, more detailed--relying less on context and more thorough in presenting context, and more concise (oral communication is typically extraordinarily redundant). Written communication also allows more elaborated, complex communication. McWhorter argues that this difference affects political discourse by favoring a style of communication that communicates less information, less clearly. Furthermore, other means of communication--from poetry to music--suffer from similar issues. For example, modern music focuses on rhythm favoring repetition of themes or interesting voices rather than constantly varying the melody. Similarly, poetry has become more free-form, which simplifies the task of the poet. It's not entirely clear that there is any inherent reason why relaxing these constraints is a bad thing. In fact, McWhorter points out that in many ways the elaborated communication patterns that are out of vogue served as markers of class, and that the loss of prestige for this patterns of communication coincides with the loss of respect for authority that characterized the 60s. I didn't find this book completely convincing in the argument that the degradation of language and music matters, but I certainly now find myself noticing when communication follows the written or oral style. Maybe the most interesting thing about this book is that people used to listen to really long speeches written in the highfalutin style that most people today find incredibly tedious and pretentious.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    A very interesting book about how our written language and music have degraded over time, especially since 1965. The author almost seems to be upset about it, but then he says that it's a pretty natural thing to happen. He blames it on the non-conformist movement of the 60s...at least that's what sped things up. Before that, our written language was very florid and showed how much we loved out language. Now we are very skeptical of authority and formality, so we write like we talk. Pre-1965, thi A very interesting book about how our written language and music have degraded over time, especially since 1965. The author almost seems to be upset about it, but then he says that it's a pretty natural thing to happen. He blames it on the non-conformist movement of the 60s...at least that's what sped things up. Before that, our written language was very florid and showed how much we loved out language. Now we are very skeptical of authority and formality, so we write like we talk. Pre-1965, this review would have been pages long. Now it will only be a few lines. Even newspapers were more florid in their prose. And music is a total lost cause. We've gone from classical music being on television to rap/hip-hop, which is the ultimate form of song as talk. The rock and roll in the middle is populated by singers who aren't trained. They basically talk the lyrics with some musical notes thrown in for good measure. Not that I'm complaining. I would rather hear U2 than Mozart. Maybe that's sad in a way, but it's the way I was brought up. And it's what I like. And it's what the author likes, too. He can appreciate classical, but he also loves showtunes. Even those have been dumbed down since 1965. Compare "I've Got You Under My Skin" to anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber (who he calls dishwater...heh heh). Anyway, this book is, unfortunately, out of print. But it's a very interesting book for those of us interested in our language. My copy had just about an entire chapter missing, which sucked. And it happened to be a chapter about music. Blah.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

    Having read and enjoyed "The Power of Babel", I expected better from McWhorter. But this was a lazy, sloppy, pointless, self-indulgent, piece of nothing. Somehow I find it more annoying when someone as obviously talented as this author perpetrates something as sloppy as this book Having read and enjoyed "The Power of Babel", I expected better from McWhorter. But this was a lazy, sloppy, pointless, self-indulgent, piece of nothing. Somehow I find it more annoying when someone as obviously talented as this author perpetrates something as sloppy as this book

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christy

    The most important idea I gleaned from this book is that written language and spoken language are very different. Other than that... I lost interest about halfway through this book. It's repetitive and unfocused. The most important idea I gleaned from this book is that written language and spoken language are very different. Other than that... I lost interest about halfway through this book. It's repetitive and unfocused.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I just want to hug John McWhorter’s brain. He’s brilliant. I love each book I read more and more.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    John McWhorter has long had a double identity. As a professor of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, he's written on the evolution of languages over time (The Power of Babel) and on English dialectology (Word on the Street). But he's also a cultural commentator, until recently directing his attention to the issues facing African-Americans (Losing the Race and Authentically Black). In DOING OUR OWN THING: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care he John McWhorter has long had a double identity. As a professor of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, he's written on the evolution of languages over time (The Power of Babel) and on English dialectology (Word on the Street). But he's also a cultural commentator, until recently directing his attention to the issues facing African-Americans (Losing the Race and Authentically Black). In DOING OUR OWN THING: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care he combines his two interests. McWhorter claims that there's indeed a real problem with the English that we hear today in the media and from our politics, and the English we read in popular literature. McWhorter, like all reputable linguists, will readily state that all languages are essentially equal in that they serve the basic needs of their bodies of speakers. His argument is not that English is going downhill in a way that is reducing people to unintelligent brutes who can't get their message across. No, McWhorter believes that the decline of oratorical skills and literary flair is simply depriving English-speaking culture of some beauty that people could enjoy. He pairs letters from grade-school dropouts of the 1800s with newspaper articles by professional journalists of today to show that, yes, in days of yore people used to appreciate the skill they could display in writing elegant prose, and everyone was capable of giving it a go. He puts the Gettysburg Address next to what a professional speechwriter prepared for President Bush to show that nowadays our politicians provide uninspiring and half-hearted explanations of their motivations and goals. English in the public sphere, McWhorter claims, is lame. McWhorter has no problem with people on the street talking like they are wont to. He notes that the civil engineer of a century ago who wrote a lovely letter to his sweetheart likely used much coarser language on the job with his construction men. But there should be a place for linguistic virtuosity. Great literature, which is the very exploitation of a language's possibilities, is today rarely encountered in the mainstream media. Poetry is replaced by the Spoken Word, where there's little elegance or artfullness in the construction, just rants against the Man. Indeed, McWhorter traces much of the downhill trend to the 1960s, when the rebellion against authorities tragically entailed a rejection of fine arts, which was mistakenly seen as elitist. McWhorter extends the argument to music, feeling that popular music today concentrates on rhythm at the expense of other parameters of music. Compare a rap song to a fine jazz tune from half a century ago: once upon a time popular music was rich. This extension is reasonable, but the musical portion of the book is so slim that it seems an after-thought; would that he have fleshed it out a bit. I'm also not sure I buy McWhorter's assertion that English-speaking cultures are the only ones neglecting linguistic virtuosity. Sure, there are cultures out there where speaking eloquently still elicits wonder, but things like poetry are dead in lots of places. Just as the average Dane if he knows who Pia Tafdrup or Ole Sarvig are, or the average Japanese young person if he'd prefer to put down his manga and enjoy some Kawabata instead. The trend may have started in the United States, fount of much international popular culture, but all developed societies are going post-literary. I am a graduate student of linguistics because I love the diversity of human speech. I am fascinated by the rainbow of languages on Earth, and how within each there is a lively array of registers. But in English, as well as various other languages I speak, things are getting awfully monochromatic and the spice is gone. With DOING OUR OWN THING McWhorter might not be able to stop this massive trend, but it's admirable that he notices there's a problem, and the book is sure to be thought-provoking for the lovers of language, literature, and fine music among us.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Not what you think, or at least not what I expected when I started. I expected this to be a more-or-less standard expression of the downward spiral of the English language due to the failures of our education system, the influence of television and music, and the influx of immigrants for whom English is at best a second language. McWhorter, a young African-American (I wasn't familiar with McWhorter before picking up this book, and I also wasn't expecting either until seeing the author's picture o Not what you think, or at least not what I expected when I started. I expected this to be a more-or-less standard expression of the downward spiral of the English language due to the failures of our education system, the influence of television and music, and the influx of immigrants for whom English is at best a second language. McWhorter, a young African-American (I wasn't familiar with McWhorter before picking up this book, and I also wasn't expecting either until seeing the author's picture on the back flap) linguist, in fact does examine the decline of the quality of written English, but not as a result of these influences, which he labels as symptoms, not causes. Rather he points to the general cultural rebellion against authority and formality that occurred in the US in the mid 1960s as the source of the problem. Rejection of political authority and bureaucratic and organizational formality quickly spread to language and music. McWhorter's position is well-argued; he has not gone off half-cocked. He spends considerable time establishing that there have always been different standards between spoken English that American's used in casual speech and written language, which is easier to edit and subject to standards of grammar, vocabulary and precision. But he traces the trend of lowered expectations for written speech from, for example, Wilson's speeches in favor of the League of Nations, to Congressional speeches on December 8, 1941 in support of the declaration of war against Japan, to Congressional speeches on September 12, 2001, in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. His conclusions and predictions, now six years old and made just at the cusp of ubiquitous available-everywhere communication technology, have proved quite prescient. This is not a gloom-and-doom treatise predicting the sudden downfall of America or English at the hands of a Casual-speech horde, nor is it a rose-colored call for a return to a "simpler time" of oratorical stump speeches and ornate letter writing. Note: I have not read any of McWhorter's other books, but other reviewers here have praised his The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language as a superior book. I am not a linguist by trade, so I found this book quite interesting as it touches on uses of the language that are accessible to non-specialists like me and most readers. I would also reference Michael Adams' recent Slang: The People's Poetry (which I did read and review) as a companion to "Doing Our Own Thing" in its examination of the oral tradition of slang. "Doing Our Own thing" is also a good companion to Elijah Wald's How the Beatles Destroyed Rock n Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music, a new book I read and reviewed recently, as McWhorter finds (six years before Wald and without reference by him!) the genetic marker of how the Beatles did the deed Wald claims for them in his mistitled book

  10. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Culled for musical theater anecdotes, Doing Our Own Thing could be a sizable essay on one heterosexual man's love of show tunes. In intention and result, it's a discussion of American English's transition from a written to an oral language, a change that's been happening gradually from the early part of the last century. It's an upsetting book, actually. John (we've left off formal titles) quotes a sixth grade textbook dating up to the 1920s, "When I am in a serious humor, I often walk by mysel Culled for musical theater anecdotes, Doing Our Own Thing could be a sizable essay on one heterosexual man's love of show tunes. In intention and result, it's a discussion of American English's transition from a written to an oral language, a change that's been happening gradually from the early part of the last century. It's an upsetting book, actually. John (we've left off formal titles) quotes a sixth grade textbook dating up to the 1920s, "When I am in a serious humor, I often walk by myself in WestminsterAbbey," from 1960, "I decided, after my first voyage, to spend the rest of my days at Bagdad," and 1996, "Tachawin had packed the parfleche cases with clothing and food and strapped them to a travois." John says, "We read it thankful that we are too old to bother with a text so dingdong dull," and then he translates the passage without the vocabulary words, "Justin had packed the leather cases with clothing and food and strapped them to two trailing poles with a skin stretched between them." Dingdong dull is an awesome and apt description of a passive construction written for diversity not content. That is the thesis of Doing Our Own Thing, that American English (and British) is being written in less elegant, less complex ways; that people no longer care for (or acknowledge) rhetoric; they cannot use a formal, written variant of language in, for example, letters (which they don't write anymore) or books (which would never sell) or schools (where English is suspect as a tool of oppression); that adults today (including me) have never known a world where a command of English was explicitly valued (blame the Baby Boomers); and that written and formal English will continue to be expressed through traditionally oral and informal idioms. And English will rarely be valued for its own beauty and craft. Terrible, right? In a long chapter on the death of poetry, John points out that no culture has ever had less national poetry than the US today, and that people eat up, say, Annie Proulx's prose poetics because they are so starved of poetry in its own terms; poetry today has thrown off its suspectly artful language to become that arrhythmic, clunky, difficult to digest prose we all make fun of. Reading to the end, I felt like I was standing at Fort Snelling looking over the Minnesota River, with the man dressed as Josiah Snelling saying, "Everything from here west to the Rockies was prairie," and you look out past the freeway and know that no matter what happens, that prairie will never come back. Doing Our Own Thing, bleak as it can be, is fun. John's a polyglot, and the area he covers is vast and comic. Read this book. http://surfeitofbooks.blogspot.com/20...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dave Peticolas

    The subtitle of this book is "The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care". A linguist, McWhorter takes pains to explain that this is not another book decrying the "declining" standards of English grammar and that, e.g., there is no meaningful way in which "is not" is more correct than "ain't".Instead, McWhorter offers three theses:1. American's relationship to written and publicly spoken language has changed, with formal, carefully prepared prose and speech giving way to The subtitle of this book is "The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care". A linguist, McWhorter takes pains to explain that this is not another book decrying the "declining" standards of English grammar and that, e.g., there is no meaningful way in which "is not" is more correct than "ain't".Instead, McWhorter offers three theses:1. American's relationship to written and publicly spoken language has changed, with formal, carefully prepared prose and speech giving way to informal, off-the-cuff "talk".2. The reason for this change is primarlly the anti-Establishment movement of the sixties in which formal language was equated with the controlling hand and deceptive designs of the Powers That Be.3. This change has both positive and negative implications.Through a wealth of anecdotes, McWhorter does seem to establish his first point. Although he sometimes takes cheap shots, like comparing Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to a speech by George W. Bush, a picture does emerge of an earlier time in which formal language, and a love of English, was far more prevalent than today.When he comes to the second thesis, McWhorter is on rockier ground. Although the influence of the sixties is no doubt present, he raises and then dismisses a number of possible additional factors such as the rise of radio and television and the invention of Jazz. These factors are dismissed due to issues of "timing", as if cultural effects have to happen all at once or not at all, a premise he never defends but merely uses. Jazz in particular seems to be a worthy candidate since "Doing Your Own Thing" is basically Article I of the Jazz Constitution.Strangely, he devotes the least amount of space to the third point. The benefits and drawbacks of formal language are usually mentioned only in passing and rarely spelled out in a detailed argument.Finally, and also strange for a work which emphasizes the benefits of formal language for structuring an argument, the book is not especially well written. The sections seem to ramble from one topic to another without a gradual buildup to a convincing conclusion. Possible contradictions between earlier and later statements are not noticed or accounted for.Nevertheless, it does seem as if McWhorter is on to something. Our relationship to our language does seem to have changed and we may have lost something of value in the transition. As to exactly how it happened, what the consequences are, and what we might do about it -- these questions require another book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lance

    Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. McWhorter's study of the cultural side of linguistics, and especially the change in the relationship that Americans have had with their langauge, was simply fascinating. There were a couple or so places were he uses a wirty dord, so if that offends you, you may want to steer away from this book. Even with that, I appreciated that his use of that sort of language was not indiscriminate but used to make the point that he was trying to make. I do not say this t Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. McWhorter's study of the cultural side of linguistics, and especially the change in the relationship that Americans have had with their langauge, was simply fascinating. There were a couple or so places were he uses a wirty dord, so if that offends you, you may want to steer away from this book. Even with that, I appreciated that his use of that sort of language was not indiscriminate but used to make the point that he was trying to make. I do not say this to excuse him; rather I say it to announce that I do not automatically reject him. His ideas on the changing relationship Americans have had with their language are dead-on right. The 60s really did change America, and while some change was good, other change was not. Our culture and our society have both suffered not only from the depleted relationship with langauge but also with that a depleted relationship with everything connected with language --- politics, the arts, even our sense of identity. At the same time, I appreciated McWhorter's sense of common sense: Let's recognize that grammar is merely a convention and therefore subject to change with time, thus enabling us to free ourselves from some of the ridiculousness inherent in hanging on to grammar rules inherited from Latin, a language that is not only not our own but also no longer in common use. The way McWhorter unravels the historical examples in his book is fascinating. Overall, I found the book a very engaging read and would recommend it to those interested in languages, culture, history, or all of the above.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    What a book! McWhorter examines the loss of formal language in American English. He examines the gap between spoken and written English as the Twentieth Century has progressed, noting the influences of the Sixties, rock music, and the feeling that English represents an unsavory, imperialist power. He bemoans the loss of poetry’s and rhetoric’s cultural capital. Poems are no longer found in newspapers. Eloquent people no longer deliver speeches at the ends of dinners. Artful words and complicated What a book! McWhorter examines the loss of formal language in American English. He examines the gap between spoken and written English as the Twentieth Century has progressed, noting the influences of the Sixties, rock music, and the feeling that English represents an unsavory, imperialist power. He bemoans the loss of poetry’s and rhetoric’s cultural capital. Poems are no longer found in newspapers. Eloquent people no longer deliver speeches at the ends of dinners. Artful words and complicated syntax are considered pretentious and suspicious. Off the cuff rap has overtaken careful constructed classical music. Despite all this, McWhorter himself writes in a very accessible style, not forsaking beauty, but conscious of readability. He’s the first to admit that he certainly does not invoke nineteenth century formality when delivering a lecture. This trend is inevitable and overwhelming. Escape is most certainly alienation. Poets lurk on the fringe of society. Meanwhile, the citizens of other countries with other languages have retained a love of their language, a fondness for their range of expression, a delight in the recitation of their national poets. Oh, well?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Doing Our Own Thing is a book about the degradation of the English language. McWhorter pulls examples from correspondence, political and protest speech, as well as musicals and songs to make his case. While I would agree (and I think most would) that there has been a simplification of speech since the days of "four score and seven years ago," the claim of "degradation doesn't seem to hold up as well. Even McWhorter seems to go back and forth with this claim, defending some of the implications th Doing Our Own Thing is a book about the degradation of the English language. McWhorter pulls examples from correspondence, political and protest speech, as well as musicals and songs to make his case. While I would agree (and I think most would) that there has been a simplification of speech since the days of "four score and seven years ago," the claim of "degradation doesn't seem to hold up as well. Even McWhorter seems to go back and forth with this claim, defending some of the implications that his thesis claims as degradation. If there's one loser in this book, it's George W. Bush. The former president (and members of his cabinet) fill out the chapters about political speech as examples of simplified/degraded speech (he's only pulling quotes from Bush's prepared remarks here--it's worth noting). Also, from this book, I found out that McWhorter is a musical theatre nerd, so there's that. This is a diverting book, an interesting read, and does establish that the English language as written and, to some extent, as spoken has changed. It is not particularly persuasive on the point of degradation.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Joel Arnold

    This was a fun book. McWhorter is playful in his writing and a lot of fun to read, even if some of his pop-culture allusions were outside of my knowledge (mostly from the 60s-80s). When I started I thought it would be another media ecology book and frustrate me. Instead, his argument took a much better form that I could see some value in. I was a little shocked at how politically incorrect his argument was, particularly in the last third of the book. All in all, it was interesting, though I'm st This was a fun book. McWhorter is playful in his writing and a lot of fun to read, even if some of his pop-culture allusions were outside of my knowledge (mostly from the 60s-80s). When I started I thought it would be another media ecology book and frustrate me. Instead, his argument took a much better form that I could see some value in. I was a little shocked at how politically incorrect his argument was, particularly in the last third of the book. All in all, it was interesting, though I'm still not sure that I entirely agree with his conclusions. Robert Lowth's 1762 book said that proper English should never end a sentence in a preposition, since Latin didn't do things that way. In the process of explaining the rule he says "this is an idiom which our language is strongly inclined to." (quoted on pg. 33 of Doing Our Own Thing) 178-179 Hilarious examples of people decrying "young people today" and their ignorance all the way back into the 1800s. Top of 251 - summarizes the book nicely.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    Even though I often disagreed with some of McWhorter's opinions, this was a fascinating and thought-provoking read the whole way through. His discussions are very fluid and familiar (even though he bemoans the degradation of a formal, "written" style), which made me desperately wish that I could sit down with him face-to-face and ask him to clarify and debate his very strong, sometimes extreme, and rather conservative statements. Regardless, this book drew attention to aspects of language (more Even though I often disagreed with some of McWhorter's opinions, this was a fascinating and thought-provoking read the whole way through. His discussions are very fluid and familiar (even though he bemoans the degradation of a formal, "written" style), which made me desperately wish that I could sit down with him face-to-face and ask him to clarify and debate his very strong, sometimes extreme, and rather conservative statements. Regardless, this book drew attention to aspects of language (more specifically regarding American culture) that I've never considered before, and has now enticed me to form my own opinions of language's growth, conditions of decline, and the societal implications brought about in Whorf's Hypothesis of language reflecting culture (and vice versa) (even though Steven Pinker has influenced me in examining the holes of this theory). Reading McWhorter often reminded me of an academician's Chuck Klosterman. You should read this one!!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Renan

    I read this book after reading The Power of Babel, (which I think is axcellent), expecting a similar argument enlivened by careful observation and reasoning. What a disappointment! The thesis here is the decline of the west as shown in written language, popular music, and a host of other "trends". Besides showing his personal tastes, McWhorter claims to know the reason for this general decline: the 60s! No careful weighting of evidence, no room for opposing views this book feels like a rant again I read this book after reading The Power of Babel, (which I think is axcellent), expecting a similar argument enlivened by careful observation and reasoning. What a disappointment! The thesis here is the decline of the west as shown in written language, popular music, and a host of other "trends". Besides showing his personal tastes, McWhorter claims to know the reason for this general decline: the 60s! No careful weighting of evidence, no room for opposing views this book feels like a rant against the people that dared to challenge the given truth and therefore, in additin to be expelled from Eden, they took all of us with them. McWhorter is a fine writer and some of his observations are worth pondering. But as a logical argument this book is a mess...

  18. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    McWhorter presents a fascinating look at the fundamental shift in American culture from a society that valued the structure, expressiveness, and art of formal and written language to one that operates almost exclusively by "talking" (not even speaking). Unlike some other authors who have tackled this same issue, McWhorter argues that the cause of this change was the social revolutions of the 1960s, and that mass media, pop culture, electronic gadgets, and woefully inadequate public schooling are McWhorter presents a fascinating look at the fundamental shift in American culture from a society that valued the structure, expressiveness, and art of formal and written language to one that operates almost exclusively by "talking" (not even speaking). Unlike some other authors who have tackled this same issue, McWhorter argues that the cause of this change was the social revolutions of the 1960s, and that mass media, pop culture, electronic gadgets, and woefully inadequate public schooling are symptoms of this shift, not the causes. I thoroughly enjoyed the author's balance of academic analysis with wittiness, and found his arguments to be insightful and convincing. An excellent book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nicole M.

    From the outside, it looks like another one of those Darn Kids These Days with Their Long Hair sort of things, but the beginning of the book introduces an interesting idea and argument that formal language legitimately has changed over the years. And indeed it has, as the author shows us from numerous examples. The problem for me with this book was that he seemed to drive the argument into the ground, reiterating things over and over and over, in his Sassy-Linguist style. I found it annoying, an From the outside, it looks like another one of those Darn Kids These Days with Their Long Hair sort of things, but the beginning of the book introduces an interesting idea and argument that formal language legitimately has changed over the years. And indeed it has, as the author shows us from numerous examples. The problem for me with this book was that he seemed to drive the argument into the ground, reiterating things over and over and over, in his Sassy-Linguist style. I found it annoying, and at times some of his points seemed a bit flimsy. All in all, an interesting topic to discuss, but here I just got bored.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    McWhorter's thesis is that Americans have become less articulate after about 1965, moving to a way of writing (e.g., in newspapers, prepared speeches, lectures, letters) that's closer to how we speak than the intricate sentence structures of pre-1960. He richly documents his case, and I found his argument persuasive and insightful. He shows convincingly that this change reflects the overall change in American culture moving to a more casual and more "authentic" mode of public discourse after 196 McWhorter's thesis is that Americans have become less articulate after about 1965, moving to a way of writing (e.g., in newspapers, prepared speeches, lectures, letters) that's closer to how we speak than the intricate sentence structures of pre-1960. He richly documents his case, and I found his argument persuasive and insightful. He shows convincingly that this change reflects the overall change in American culture moving to a more casual and more "authentic" mode of public discourse after 1965. In some ways, this is a great change but it's accompanied by a sense of loss as well.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    The full title of this one is Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and why we should, like, care. This book is for anyone who cares about the decline in the quality of discourse in the modern West (much of it specifically about the USA, but really anywhere English is spoken). I hate to say that much of the smaller section on music is lost on me - I don't read, play, or understand music very well - but the insights about language are worth reading. The full title of this one is Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and why we should, like, care. This book is for anyone who cares about the decline in the quality of discourse in the modern West (much of it specifically about the USA, but really anywhere English is spoken). I hate to say that much of the smaller section on music is lost on me - I don't read, play, or understand music very well - but the insights about language are worth reading.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I don't necessarily agree with everything John H. McWhorter has to say, however this book presents a myriad of interesting topics regarding language. I am always fascinated by culture and all things 'people', and this book presents some interesting takes on culture by way of language. A well written, thought-provoking read! (I have had the privilege of hearing McWhorter interviewed and he is a well=spoken, thoughtful individual as well!) I don't necessarily agree with everything John H. McWhorter has to say, however this book presents a myriad of interesting topics regarding language. I am always fascinated by culture and all things 'people', and this book presents some interesting takes on culture by way of language. A well written, thought-provoking read! (I have had the privilege of hearing McWhorter interviewed and he is a well=spoken, thoughtful individual as well!)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lucas

    Has the 60s revolution destroyed our aesthetic joy in complex forms of language and music? McWhorter raises the bar for those arguing that it has in this nice, flowing argument that samples political, journalistic and public language through the history of our nation. The question that still remains is whether we can ever regain our love of our own language and the beautiful heights which we can be lifted to by its greatest practitioners.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Gary Geiger

    Best language book I've read this year outside of Shady Characters. This is a minor point, not a major part of the book, but I don't agree with McWhorter with regards to rhyming as one of the, if not the most beautiful things in English. I think rhythm, assonance, and alliteration play more important parts than he thinks. Best language book I've read this year outside of Shady Characters. This is a minor point, not a major part of the book, but I don't agree with McWhorter with regards to rhyming as one of the, if not the most beautiful things in English. I think rhythm, assonance, and alliteration play more important parts than he thinks.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I only read 3/4 of this, and that's as much as I'll finish. Although I agree with the author's stance, he seems more impressed with using his large vocabulary than discussing the low vocabulary and low morality of today's rap music. I only read 3/4 of this, and that's as much as I'll finish. Although I agree with the author's stance, he seems more impressed with using his large vocabulary than discussing the low vocabulary and low morality of today's rap music.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    I enjoyed some of the author's theories, but the book was just way too dry and boring. I really expected something more worth my while. The information could have been much easier if it were condensed a bit. I enjoyed some of the author's theories, but the book was just way too dry and boring. I really expected something more worth my while. The information could have been much easier if it were condensed a bit.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Peter di Lorenzi

    Sharp, insightful, non-tendentious analysis of the factors and costs of cultural decline as seen in the often pandering collapse of efforts to uphold formal standards in our contemporary culture. As always with McWhorter, the approach is direct, independent, and un-beholden to the 'offendibles'. Sharp, insightful, non-tendentious analysis of the factors and costs of cultural decline as seen in the often pandering collapse of efforts to uphold formal standards in our contemporary culture. As always with McWhorter, the approach is direct, independent, and un-beholden to the 'offendibles'.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jesse Markus

    Meh... I've read most of McWhorter's stuff.. All About The Beat, Power of Babel, Our Marvelous Bastard Tongue, Word On The Street, What Language Is.. I've watched many of his Teaching Company lectures too. Gotta say, this book was pretty boring. Meh... I've read most of McWhorter's stuff.. All About The Beat, Power of Babel, Our Marvelous Bastard Tongue, Word On The Street, What Language Is.. I've watched many of his Teaching Company lectures too. Gotta say, this book was pretty boring.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Ling reading for laypeople. Spot-on for language, but I think he's way off when it comes to music. Ling reading for laypeople. Spot-on for language, but I think he's way off when it comes to music.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Shalon

    Funny and depressing at the same time, this book is a must for language dorks like me (okay, and like most of you!).

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