Talking Back, Talking Black: Truths About America's Lingua Franca

Talking Back, Talking Black: Truths About America's Lingua Franca

by John McWhorter

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Overview

“Superb.” —Steven Pinker

“An explanation, a defense, and, most heartening, a celebration. . . . McWhorter demonstrates the ‘legitimacy’ of Black English by uncovering its complexity and sophistication, as well as the still unfolding journey that has led to its creation. . . . [His] intelligent breeziness is the source of the book’s considerable charm.” —New Yorker

Talking Back, Talking Black is [McWhorter’s] case for the acceptance of black English as a legitimate American dialect. . . . He ably and enthusiastically breaks down the mechanics.” —New York Times Book Review

Linguists have been studying Black English as a speech variety for years, arguing to the public that it is different from Standard English, not a degradation of it. Yet false assumptions and controversies still swirl around what it means to speak and sound “black.” In his first book devoted solely to the form, structure, and development of Black English, John McWhorter clearly explains its fundamentals and rich history while carefully examining the cultural, educational, and political issues that have undermined recognition of this transformative, empowering dialect.

Talking Back, Talking Black takes us on a fascinating tour of a nuanced and complex language that has moved beyond America’s borders to become a dynamic force for today’s youth culture around the world.

John McWhorter teaches linguistics, Western civilization, music history, and American studies at Columbia University. A New York Times best-selling author and TED speaker, he is a columnist for CNN.com, a regular contributor to the Atlantic, a frequent guest on CNN and MSNBC, and the host of Slate’s language podcast, Lexicon Valley. His books on language include The Power of Babel; Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue; Words on the Move; Talking Back, Talking Black; and The Creole Debate.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for Talking Back, Talking Black

Literary Hub “Titles for the Times” selection
Chicago Woman magazine “Must-Read Book on African American Culture” selection
Journal of Blacks in Higher Education “Books of Interest” selection
Tablet magazine’s Unorthodox “Year’s Literary Highlights” selection
Literary Ashland “What People Are Reading” selection

“Superb.” —Steven Pinker

“In [Talking Back, Talking Black], McWhorter offers an explanation, a defense, and, most heartening, a celebration of the dialect that has become, he argues, an American lingua franca. . . . [He] demonstrates the ‘legitimacy’ of Black English by uncovering its complexity and sophistication, as well as the still unfolding journey that has led to its creation. . . . [His] intelligent breeziness is the source of the book’s considerable charm.” —New Yorker

Talking Back, Talking Black is [McWhorter’s] case for the acceptance of black English as a legitimate American dialect. . . . He ably and enthusiastically breaks down the mechanics.” —New York Times Book Review

“A fascinating exploration—and celebration—of Black English in America.” —Tablet magazine’s Unorthodox podcast

“McWhorter considers complex issues and leaves the reader with a more clear understanding of language and the implicit assumptions surrounding it. . . . In this time of great anxiety and injustice, [Talking Back, Talking Black] provides insight into a cultural issue that has long been written off and snubbed by many. And as such, his book is proving itself to be about so much more than just language.” —MARY Journal

“Drawing on research, popular culture, and his own expertise as a linguist and black American, McWhorter conveys the roots and richness of the dialect that has come out of the experiences of black Americans. . . . [Talking Back, Talking Black] is an engaging look at the English language as spoken by many black Americans as well as the long history of stereotyping that has prevented an objective analysis of a rich language tradition.” —Booklist

“A vibrant separation of an African-American vernacular tradition from the thickets of contemporary racial debate.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Well suited for those who have an interest in black studies, education, history, language, or cultural studies.” —Library Journal

“Linguistics fans will be enthralled by McWhorter’s fascinating and logically presented study.” —Shelf Awareness for Readers

“A scholarly, in-depth analysis of Black English. . . . Fascinating.” —Midwest Book Review

“In Talking Back, Talking Black, John McWhorter, the maestro at communicating linguistics to the public, succeeds in helping the reader to ‘actually hear Black English in a new way,’ while hipping linguists to some features of this vibrant variety they might not have considered before.” —John R. Rickford, former president of the Linguistic Society of America and coauthor of Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English

What Booksellers & Librarians Are Saying About Talking Back, Talking Black

San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate “Recommendations from Bay Area Independent Bookstores” selection
Book Are Magic “Necessary Nonfiction for Black History Month” selection
Library Journal/GOBI Library Solutions “Language Best Sellers of the Year” list
University City Public Library “Book Challenge” selection
Darien Library “Staff Reading” pick

“McWhorter examines not only the vexed past [of Black English], but also the dynamic and difficult present of this vibrant force in cultures around the world.” —Rakestraw Books (from SF Gate)

“With deep sincerity and accessibility, McWhorter addresses why Black English is a dialect and should be treated as a valid way of speaking in the US. This book is so smart and thoughtful.” —Danni Green, Books Are Magic (Brooklyn, NY)

“John McWhorter does an excellent job making the case for Black English as a fully fledged dialect of English. He also does an excellent job of presenting the linguistic arguments in a way that is easy to digest.” —Nathaniel Hattrick, Liberty Bay Books (Poulsbo, WA)

“Perfect for amateur linguists looking for a new angle on current discussions of diversity. John McWhorter doesn’t get too technical as he discusses the mechanics of AAVE, but draws attention to the subtle aspects of the dialect.” —Sarah Rettger, Porter Square Books (Cambridge, MA)

“Timely in the sense we should have already been talking about it, but thank God someone is talking about it now; McWhorter tackles the idea that African American Vernacular is grammatically incorrect. Decades of associating Black English with error has fed into our nation’s history of racism and vice versa. It is imperative, especially in today’s political landscape, that we tackle our hidden prejudice and examine what makes it so. Easy to read in an evening; McWhorter explains not only the grammatical aspects of AAV, but examines cultural backgrounds and the political landscape of race as well. Do yourself a favor, read this book, then take a hard look in the mirror. I know I will.” —Atticus Solomon, Literati Bookstore (Ann Arbor, MI)

“[McWhorter] explains tricky grammatical and linguistic concepts with humor and energy, making this a fun and informative read.” —Kathleen, University City Public Library (University City, MO)

“[McWhorter] presents a broader, reframed argument with the sociocultural context necessary [for Black English] to be accepted more broadly. . . . I was hooked on this book at the dedication: saying of his daughter, ‘I hope she will read this as soon as she is old enough to take it in, to make sure she never for a second thinks black people’s speech is full of mistakes.’” —James McNutt, Darien Library (Darien, CT)

Select Praise for John McWhorter

“McWhorter debunks some of our most persistent myths about language.” —NPR

“McWhorter makes all the right arguments, and he makes them clearly.” —New Yorker

“McWhorter’s prose crackles, his pop-cultural references pop.” —San Diego Union-Tribune

“With his passionate eloquence, [McWhorter] makes readers glimpse the wonder of languages.” —Newsday

“McWhorter’s goal is to shine some light on topics he feels that authors of the typical ‘grand old history’ of English, with their ‘fetish’ for vocabulary at the expense of grammar, have left out.” —New York Times Book Review

“Do you think Black English is a ‘dialect’ full of ‘mistakes’? You’re likely to change your mind about its ‘languageness’ after reading Mr. McWhorter.” —Wall Street Journal

Kirkus Reviews

2016-10-11
A compact, lively defense of the grammatical legitimacy of "Black English."McWhorter (Linguistics, Music History, American Studies/Columbia Univ.; Words on the Move: Why English Won't—and Can't—Sit Still, 2016, etc.) has been involved in the controversies surrounding African-American Vernacular English for 20 years, when the news of Oakland, California's schools' consideration of an Ebonics curriculum provided him "fifteen minutes of modest media notoriety [as a] black linguist." Although the debate on Ebonics faded, McWhorter concluded, "racism is hardly the only thing standing between how linguists see Black English and how the public sees it." Thus, his approach focuses equally on discerning intricate grammatical principles within AAVE and on the larger mysteries of how shared culture affects seemingly individualized traits like speech patterns. He gradually expands his perspective over the book's five essays, first defusing the question of whether African-Americans can be said to "sound black." He notes that the issue's sensitivity may be "because Black English is so often associated with stupidity that one can't help wanting to disidentify from it." Meanwhile, even well-meaning white people are reluctant to explore their own assumptions for fear of appearing racist. Similarly, many black and white Americans cannot accept the legitimacy of Black English due to its apparent inappropriateness for certain social or professional situations, despite the fact that "no Black English advocate is calling for Black English to be allowed in [job] interviews." McWhorter notes that black Americans today are necessarily experts in code-switching, or utilizing both Standard and Black English in different contexts. "The two things do not cancel each other out: They coexist," he argues. Still, the enduring taint of minstrel culture continues to quash intellectual inquiry into black linguistics, as many are convinced "that a black way to talk has something to do with white racist caricature." The author confidently untangles these issues, writing in an accessible and wry yet precise style. A vibrant separation of an African-American vernacular tradition from the thickets of contemporary racial debate.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781942658207
Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press
Publication date: 01/10/2017
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.70(d)

Customer Reviews