Cannonball Read IV: Word on the Street by John McWhorter
McWhorter's argument is fairly complex. First of all, he argues that dialectics share their own internal logic and syntax, and are thus not 'incorrect' but rather different descendants of the same dead language. He also shows how many of the biases against people who speak different dialectics are culturally and racially rooted, but defended as based in intelligence. Lastly, he shows how proponents of Black English as a bilingual education program are wrongheaded, as many people who speak Black English hear standard English throughout their lives and can code-switch easily, so long as they are taught in an environment that does not belittle or mock their standard speech.
McWhorter's book contains many interesting arguments, backed up by countless examples from various patois and dialects, descended from different languages. Although the arguments are interesting, the examples sometimes seem endless. McWhorter will use an example of Swedish dialect and compare it to standard Swedish, and then state his point; then he moves on to another example to prove the same point, then states his point again. This process is repeated ad nauseum, rendering about a third of any chapter to be simply iterations of the same thing.
However, his larger arguments and the smaller ones contained in it are fascinating. At first, I bristled at the thought of 'Black English' as a separate dialect. But McWhorter (who is black) shows the ways that it has its own internal sentence structure and logic, in addition to its own ways of pronunciation that are difficult or impossible to imitate by one who did not grow up hearing the dialect. He presents many interesting ideas, and actually makes linguistics fascinating.
For more of Rebecca’s reviews, check out her blog, Rebecca’s Cannonball.
This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.
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