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Language A to Z

Narrated by: John McWhorter
Length: 6 hrs and 13 mins

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Publisher's Summary

Linguistics, the study of language, has a reputation for being complex and inaccessible. But here's a secret: There's a lot that's quirky and intriguing about how human language works-and much of it is downright fun to learn about. But with so many potential avenues of exploration, it can often seem daunting to try to understand it. Where does one even start?

In these twenty-four 15-minute lectures by one of the best-known popularizes of language, you'll discover a delightful way to get accessible, bite-sized introductions to language. Using the English alphabet as a unique, offbeat way to approach the subject, Professor McWhorter has crafted a hopscotch tour of some of the field's major topics, hot-button issues, and more.

You'll learn why it can actually be OK to use slang like "LOL." Why English speakers don't use words like "thou" and "thee" anymore. What makes "mama" and "papa" a child's first words-in many languages. How popular rhymes like "Eeny, meeny, miney, moe") actually derive from the words for numbers in an early relative of Welsh. Why "like" is here to stay in common American speech. And much more.

These and other fascinating topics are all delivered in Professor McWhorter's light-hearted yet informative teaching style, which makes this series essential for anyone looking for a welcoming window into the quirks, curiosities, and intricacies of how language works. Filled with humor, whimsy, and no shortage of insights, it's a fast-paced tour of the same territory linguists tread each and every day.

©2012 The Great Courses (P)2012 The Teaching Company, LLC

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  • Carole T.
  • 22-01-15

Gobsmacked!

Now this is something fun and different from the venerable "Great Courses." I love them, but they tend to be considerably longer and more scholarly than "Language A to Z".

Not that Professor McWhorter doesn't know his stuff. He is a speaker who helps put the "great" in these courses! I've listened to more than one of his audios and really respect his knowledge and teaching ability.

Whether or not you are interested in linguistics, I would recommend listening to this course. It goes by in a minute (every lecture is only 15 of them!), and there's lots of pop culture references and interesting revelations about the origins of some of our strangest sayings.

This is a great highway listen - and an enjoyable way to learn something in 15 minutes!

16 people found this helpful

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  • Jacobus
  • 06-05-14

A genious Miscelany of linguistic topics

Prof. John McWhorter, linguist and English lecturer at the University of Columbia fires off like a rocket bringing linguistics to the listener through 24 short 15 minute mini-lectures from A-Z. He uses the alphabet to introduce the listener to some interesting facts about the mishmash of languages spoken in the world.

He starts the course at an enormous pace and peppers you with a lot of information. Initially I thought that I would opt out due to the pace against which he presents. I managed to stuck in there and was not disappointed. He knows a lot about languages.

From a South African perspective just the following: Xhosa is not pronounced Chosa as if it should start with a fricative, but with a clicking sound like that of the clicking languages that he describes. His pronunciation of the language called Afrikaans was also lacking. Despite that, he brings tremendous insight into languages and their structures. Highlights are "H for Hobbits" and "R for R-lessness"

If you want a fun-filled and highly informative course, this one is for you.

16 people found this helpful

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  • John S.
  • 24-11-14

Well worth a credit

Yes, the author does get carried away with his own schtick at times; however, he's usually informative and funny enough to easily carry what could be dry subject matter if handled differently.

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  • Carolyn
  • 14-06-14

A wild ride

Would you listen to Language A to Z again? Why?

I may well listen to parts of this again it was one of the most entertaining courses I have listened to. This professor seems brilliant and almost hypomanic, with funny asides and facilitating insights into the nature and meaning of language.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Language A to Z?

I loved the part where he speculates about the change in complexity of language on the island of Flores. He makes you hope it's is because of the hobbits, but he offers a less exciting and probably more realistic explanation as well. I also liked hearing him pronounce and talk about the click languages. The origin of the loss of Rs on the east coast and England was also interesting.

Have you listened to any of Professor John McWhorter’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have never heard this professor before.

If you could give Language A to Z a new subtitle, what would it be?

A manic romp through the wonderful world of language.

Any additional comments?

Thank you again audible for including the Great Courses.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Angela
  • 13-06-14

A lecture series as entertainment

This is an interesting topic read by a skilled lecturer. No bad stuff happens in it - you won't cry, although you might laugh - and you can forget about politics and global warming and warfare for awhile - and just learn about something that evolves naturally - language. Each lecture is 15 minutes long, so there are no great demands on your time if you can only listen in bits and pieces. Well worth the credit.

3 people found this helpful

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  • EmilyK
  • 06-07-15

Fun intro to linguistics topics

Great lecturer -- funny, interesting. Worked completely fine as an audio.

I didn’t think I was particularly interested in linguistics but absolutely enjoyed this lecture series, so I would recommend it to any Great Courses fan. It was episodic – more like a podcast – rather than a systematic look at linguistics. In some ways, though, that made it better for listening while commuting, since each topic was well-contained.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Ted Smith
  • 04-05-14

Thoroughly Enjoyable

Would you listen to Language A to Z again? Why?

Absolutely. This isn't serious linguistics, but more a picaresque trip through some great linguistic stories (which teach some linguistics).

Professor McWhorter is a compelling lecturer and natural storyteller. And he knows linguistics.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Danny Kopping
  • 13-05-14

Masterful McWhorter

Where does Language A to Z rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Very high - fascinating listening, perfect for in-car or in-bed listening. Short, digestible chapters

What did you like best about this story?

McWhorter's presentation skills are superb. He is witty, insightful and informative

4 people found this helpful

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  • Mark Patterson
  • 31-08-14

Lots of Language Nuggets

John McWhorter has assembled a great series of expositions on the English language, using a largely random organizing principle (the alphabet) to both entertain and educate. He covers quite the gamut, from etymology to pronunciation to grammar and gives just enough information to intrigue without becoming pedantic. He throws in plenty of theory, but is always careful to point out where he is going out on a limb academically, so to speak. He also keeps it entertaining without being trivial or forced. And to top it off, he's a great reader! I gave "story" only 4 stars only because there really isn't one, but even then, Mr. McWhorter does a good job of linking lectures when possible.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Alan
  • 21-06-14

What a great listen.

Professor McWhorter is FANTASTIC to listen to. I would give him 7 stars for performance but Audible only allows a maximum of 5 stars. The delivery and style are exhilarating. Just the right blend of wit adds to this wonderful listen. Don.t take my word for it, listen to the sample.

Where I fault the series is that way too much information is presented here for the introductory course. I did manage to totally enjoy this listen even though I felt at times over my head.

I totally recommend this audiobook.

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  • Anand Manu
  • 17-01-17

Great easy to understand intro into the subject

this is a great way to start to learn and become more interesred in lingusitics.
the narator is fun, interesting and makes the talks fun and engaging.