John McWhorter

Columbia University
Talk Title: 
The New History of English (Including When It Hasn't Been English At All)
Event Type: 
Linguistics Lecture Series
Spring 2012
Thursday, March 29, 2012, 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
Center for Global Studies & Human Development


The history of English is often thought to be a matter of an ancient Germanic language taking on a great many words from Old Norse, French, Latin, Greek and various other languages. Less known is that the true history of English is the stepwise streamlining of a complex grammar. The dizzying complexity of the grandfather tongue Proto-Indo-European became the more moderate ferocity of Proto-Germanic, after which Vikings simplified Old English into a kind of junior English — one of the only European languages without gender of the la lune type, for example. This means that the English we speak is a kind of “schoolboy” variety of something originally much more complex — and also melded with features from languages like Welsh, which is why we say “DO you go?” rather than “Go you?” Beyond Modern English, “English” comprises many other stories, such as Black English, yet another streamlining, and then creole languages like Saramaccan, hybrids of English and African languages. This lecture will illuminate how “English” is something much vaster, and with a history more chaotic, than we are often told.

About John McWhorterAbstractDirections to Venue


About John McWhorter:

John H. McWhorter, contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, writes and comments extensively on race, ethnicity and cultural issues for the Manhattan Institute. His Book, All About the Beat: Why Hip Hop Can't Save Black America (Gotham Books), pointed beyond the empty gestures of the "hip-hop revolution" to a brave new politics for Black America, calling for a renewed sense of purpose and pride in black communities.

John McWhorter is also the author of the New York Times best seller Losing the Race (Harper Perennial), and an anthology of race writings, Authentically Black (Gotham Books). McWhorter's book, Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America (Gotham Books) generated widespread acclaim. He was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Non-Fiction and has appeared numerous national TV and radio shows, such as Meet the Press, John McLaughlin's One on OneThe O'Reilly Factor, and NPR's Fresh Air. McWhorter is also a well-known and widely published linguistics scholar. McWhorter's work on race and cultural issues has appeared in leading publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, The National ReviewCity Journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and New York Magazine.

In addition, McWhorter is a noted linguist and the author of The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language, on how the world's languages arise, change, and mix, and Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music in America and Why We Should, Like, Care. He has also written a book on dialects and Black English, The Word on the Street, and three books on Creole languages. The Teaching Company has released two 36-lecture audiovisual courses of his. His latest academic book on linguistics is Why Does a Language Undress? and Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, was published in 2008.

John McWhorter earned his PhD in linguistics from Stanford University in 1993 and became Associate Professor of Linguistics at UC Berkeley after teaching at Cornell University.

(This information comes from John McWhorter's website at the Manhattan Institute)

Directions to the venue
(Center for Global Studies and Human Development)

Driving Directions:

From Nicolls Road: Take the Main Entrance and turn left onto Circle Road. Take the first right around the rotary to continue on Circle Road. The Center will be on your left behind the orange and blue residence halls (C.N. Yang and Lauterbur Halls). For parking, take the second right onto Campus Drive. Then take the first left onto John S. Toll Drive. Park in the large lot to the right.
From Stony Brook Road: Turn into the campus, onto South Drive. At the second traffic light, turn left onto Marburger Road. Continue on Marburger Road to the rotary. Take the second right, once entering the rotary to turn onto Circle Drive. The Center will be on your left behind the orange and blue residence halls (C.N. Yang and Lauterbur Halls). For parking, take the second right onto Campus Drive. Then take the first left onto John S. Toll Drive. Park in the large lot to the right.

Walking Directions:

From the SAC: Take the path in front of the Student Activities Center to the bus loop on Campus Drive. Follow Campus Drive to Circle Road. Cross Circle Road. Continue forward with Lauterbur Hall to your left. The Center for Global Studies and Human Development is located just beyond Lauterbur Hall on your left.