Linguist John McWhorter thinks about language in relation to race, politics and our shared cultural history.

Why you should listen

John McWhorter studies how language has evolved -- and will evolve -- with social, historical and technological developments, in addition to studying and writing about race in America. In recent work, he’s been urging grammarians to think of email and text messages not as the scourge of the English language but as “fingered speech,” a new form between writing and talking. Should we worry that knowing how to parse "haha kk" means we'll lose the ability to read Proust? No, he told the TED Blog: "Generally there’s always been casual speech and formal speech, and people can keep the two in their heads."

McWhorter teaches linguistics, philosophy, american studies, and music history at Columbia. He writes for TIME, CNN, The Atlantic and the Wall Street Journal. Among his books on language and on race, a selected list: What Language Is (And What It Isn't and What It Could Be); Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English; and Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America. His Words on the Move and How Do You Sound Black and Why will both be released later this year.

What others say

“The man changed my mind about texting. I love to gripe about it, but John McWhorter made me rethink how I felt.” — Ginette Evans on

John McWhorter’s TED talk

More news and ideas from John McWhorter


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A weekly round-up of interesting, weird and useful reads from around the interwebs. In “The wrong kind of Caucasian,” Sarah Kendzior critiques the media for its tendency to demonize an entire country based on the violent acts of a few individuals. [Al Jazeera] “The Internet: A Warning from History,” or how the Internet ruined everything. […]

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The linguistic miracle of texting: John McWhorter at TED2013

February 28, 2013

More than 22 million text messages are sent across the world every day … many in truly terrible English. It’s the end of the world as we know it, many decry. The decline and fall of written language means the end for us all, right? Not so fast. Linguist John McWhorter has a great new […]

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