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. These digital missives, despite their “shaggy construction,” represent an exciting new form of communication in which “lol” and “hey” are particles, he suggests, and written thoughts can be shared at the speed of 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 at Columbia, where his students, including Yin Yin Lu, Sarah Tully, and Laura Milmed, teach him all about the world of texting. He's also a contributing editor at The New Republic and TheRoot.com. 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.
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 TED.com