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John McWhorter on Language
John McWhorter, photo by Robin Holland
Comment
February 27, 2009

On February 26, 2009, the BBC broke the news that a team of researchers from Reading University have proved that the English language is forever changing, and, indeed, some very familiar words are not likely to be immortal: "The team says it can predict which words are likely to become extinct - citing 'squeeze', 'guts', 'stick' and 'bad' as probable first casualties."


This news would be no surprise to linguist John McWhorter. In his latest book, OUR MAGNIFICENT BASTARD TONGUE: THE UNKNOWN STORY OF ENGLISH, McWhorter provides a fresh look at the "proper English" most of us were taught in school:

The English language has changed so significantly over the time it's existed in that it makes you wonder why is it that for some reason about 150 years ago it became taboo for the language to change? And not just in there being new words but in terms of the grammar changing? And so we know that old English became middle English. And middle English became Shakespearean English. And that's a noble procession with French horns going in the background. Then, somehow you get to roughly Jane Austen, and then everything is just supposed to stop. What's so special about us? The language will always keep changing.
Read the introduction from OUR MAGNIFICENT BASTARD TONGUE: THE UNKNOWN STORY OF ENGLISH.(PDF)

Excerpt provided with kind permission from Gotham Books (Penguin Group) © John McWhorter.

Published February 27, 2009.

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References and Reading:
John McWhorter's biography at the Manhattan Institute.
Includes links to further articles and interviews.

Guest photos by Robin Holland

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