I always love a good non-fiction book for its ability to introduce me to concepts and history I would otherwise have missed. What Language Is is my second linguistic non-fiction book this year, following The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack, and it was my preferred of the two. Like Pollack, Whorter divides his book into five chapters, featuring letters that combine to spell IDIOM.
Ironically enough for a book about language, I found this book to be a bit, well, wordy! Sometimes I would read a whole paragraph or page and feel lost and confused or like I hadn't learned anything new. That said, when what McWhorter was saying was clear, it was usually really interesting. What was so interesting about reading this book was realizing that, hey, these are things people actually think about and here's why. There was an entire section on whether or not Black English is its own language or not, and while it's true that our opinions on the matter shape how we interact with and view others, I certainly never thought of arguments for or against.
While there are portions of What Language Is that had difficulty keeping my attention, especially when there were a lot of examples or discussions of terminology to the point that it became slightly tedious for a novice like myself, there is also a subtle and intelligent sense of wit in the book that I didn't expect. McWhorter has a definite sense of humour and even pokes fun at himself occasionally in the footnotes. Overall, though there is some confusion and many examples, in What Language Is McWhorter manages to not only get the reader to ask plenty of questions about language, but he answers quite a few of them as well, getting you to think about the topic in a way many of us rarely do.
Release Date: August 4th, 2011
Buy the Book
This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.