John McWhorter Profile Page


Ideas, Views, and Quotes

On White Privilege

McWhorter thinks that "white privilege" was an interesting concept that is worth exploring. However he is an opponent of the modern concept of white privilege. He is quoted as saying the following at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

"The whole white privilege paradigm is very interesting because I think it should be part of an education for students to learn that there is something, and I'll title it white privilege, that's fine. These are things that must be considered, such that a student wouldn't look at a disadvantaged part of the city and just say, "Well what's wrong with them?" The idea is to understand that a lot of what the person sees is that people start out at different places––and that whiteness is a privilege. However, our problem once again these days is that it is being taken in a direction that is less constructive. The idea is not people can learn that there is white privilege and be considered to have learned it, and learn some other things.

The idea is you are to learn that you're a privileged white person; you are to learn it over and over; really what you're supposed to learn is to feel guilty about it; and to express that on a regular basis, understanding that at no point in your lifetime will you ever be a morally legitimate person, because you have this privilege."

On Black Conservatism

"The black conservative is responsible for making people question an idea that racism must be extinct before black people can overcome. Understanding that our goal is to thrive despite racism rather than fetishizing it is, in fact, the central ideological plank of people deemed "black conservatives." This is a coherent position, but that can be hard to perceive, given the way that race has been discussed in our land over the past 40 years or so."

On the place of hiphop in politics

"Politics is work. Hiphop is music. The idea that hiphop, because it makes the body feel good to move to it and it makes the soul feel good to hear out angry young black men, can be transmuted into changing the world is narcotic but nonsensical. Wherever hiphop is ever "going," we can be sure it will not be in a constructive direction, anymore than fashions in the color of cars. And it shouldn't "concern" us in the least."

Articles Written In Publications

Call Them What They Wants: An article making the case for calling transgender people by their preferred pronouns.


John McWhorter asking Jordan Peterson how he knows (based on his clinical background) if someone is being sincere and coming from a deep place when asking to be called by their preferred pronoun.

Disagreements With Other Public Thinkers/Writers

McWhorter is a frequent critic of Ta-Nehisi Coates, both his argumentation methods and his arguments (1, 2).

Books Written: Summaries and Ratings

Note: am denotes Amazon rating and gr denotes Good Reads rating.

The Creole Debate (2018)

am - n/a gr - 4.1/5 stars

The title of this book is enough to have a slight understanding of its content. McWhorter starts off with how creoles have been defined over the years, how they’re formed, what their linguistic and political status should be, indicating that they have long been the topic of many linguistic debates. Over the past two decades, linguists have argued that creole isn’t just a language blend, in the same way that Yiddish is a combination of Slavic, Hebrew, and German. Instead, the author defines creole as a unique entity and is in fact, a new and genuine language.

Talking Back, Talking Black: Truths about America's Lingua Franca (2017)

am - 4.3/5 stars gr - 3.9/5 stars

Black English has been the subject of several studies by linguistic experts arguing that this dialect is actually a derivation of the Standard English and not a degradation of it. However, Black English is still hounded by controversies especially in modern times where cultural appropriation is rampant with people falling in assumptions that there is a specific way to sound “black.” In this book, McWhorter explains the history of Black America and how Black English has been undermined as a degradation of the language due to political, educational, and cultural issues. Talking Back, Talking Black is the author’s first book dedicated solely to the development, structure, and form of Black English and how it can be a dynamic force in modern times.

Words on the Move: Why English Won't - and Can't - Sit Still (Like, Literally) (2016)

am - 4.4/5 stars gr - 4.1/5 stars

In this book, McWhorter shows the vulnerabilities in the English language and how, over the years,  it has evolved and will continue to do for generations. It is an eye-opening journey that takes readers to the origins of English to its usage in modern times. The author draws an example from the everyday life of the average American and mixes heaps of humor in this delightful narrative. This books essentially encourages readers to accept and appreciate the changes in the English language as opposed to condemning it. After all, changes are a natural process that’s common to all languages.

Words on the Move takes us back to the surprising origins of the words and phrases we use today, reminding everyone that English is a resilient and dynamic language that will continue to undergo shifts in years to come.

The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language (2014)

am - n/a gr - 3.7/5 stars

Albeit brief, The Language Hoax speaks out the author’s clear opposition of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, an idea that argues that the way we see the world is based on the language that we speak. According to McWhorter, although this idea is attractive to many people, it is flat out wrong. He acknowledges the differences of each culture, but the vocabulary in which one speaks does not always correspond to how speakers describe the world or how they experience it. The author further argues that the idea of language as a lens does not work, but we all want to believe it because we are eager to celebrate diversity by acknowledging the intelligence of other races who may not think as we do. The book describes how all humans think the same way regardless of the language and this is the proper way to acknowledge the intelligence of other races.

A Grammar of Saramaccan Creole (2012)

am - n/a gr - n/a

Together with Jeff Good, McWhorter’s A Grammar of Saramaccan Creole discusses the origins of the Saramaccan language, which has been the subject of various debates. The authors describe this language as something that’s “most removed” of all creoles based in English from European language structure in terms of syntax, morphology, and phonology. This book is a great starting point for those who want to be familiar with the Saramaccan Creole. Here, the authors present the language the way it is spoken now, without drawing comparisons to its contributing languages.

What Language Is: (And What It Isn't and What It Could Be) (2011)

am - n/a gr - 3.9/5 stars

This book is highly recommended for anyone who loves language and the way humans communicate. What Language Is provides an insight to the vanishing languages spoken by a few hundred people to major tongues such as Spanish, Chinese, and English. It reveals a whole good deal about the English language too, with the author providing tips on how to see and hear languages the same way a linguist does. Here, McWhorter also provides readers with interesting trivia and emphasizes how the many languages of the world all have an origin and will eventually undergo changes and evolve over time. This books also discuss what the qualities of a language and lays out a ton of facts about the wonders of the human linguistic expression.

Linguistic Simplicity and Complexity: Why Do Languages Undress? (2011)

am - n/a gr - n/a

Linguistic Simplicity and Complexity is a part of McWhorter’s Defining Creole anthology. Here, the author discusses more of the creole languages and how such languages are not just defined grammatically, but also socio-historically. Since the 1990s the author has maintained that creoles are the only language in the world that lack the three traits shared by most languages in the world. This, in turn, makes creole a less complex language but its number of speakers is still less compared to other languages. This is the reason why creole has been the subject of interest of many linguists and this book represents McWhorter’s incredible work and is a must-read for anyone looking for a deviation from his earlier works.

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English (2008)

am - n/a gr - 3.8/5 stars

This is an extraordinarily delightful book that expresses the English language’s complexities and does a good job of showing how exciting linguistics can be. McWhorter’s unconventional yet bold history of the English language provides an insight not often seen but makes excellent sense. English has evolved so much since it came into existence, and to those questioning why it changed a lot, the author says that the shift took place when speakers of different languages started connecting with one other. There are three changes highlighted in this book.

All About the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can't Save Black America (2008)

am - 3.2/5 stars gr - 3.2/5 stars

McWhorter turns his knowledge to the topic of hip-hop music and culture. In this book, the author boldly claims that hip-hop is not at all political valuable when it comes to delivering the only genuine portrayal of black society.

This highly controversial book dives into the world of hip-hop; how the lyrics of the music are created to show black people’s craftsmanship and artistry. However, at its core, hip-hop is simply music. The author takes issue why some artists and fans liken hip-hop to a modern-day civil rights movement. McWhorter notes that lyrics in hip-hop music are often destructive as it is offensive, and is calling for black communities to seek for a better sense of pride.

Language Interrupted: Signs of Non-Native Acquisition in Standard Language Grammars (2007)

am - n/a gr - 3.8/5 stars

In this book, McWhorter lays out the fact that all languages are complex, but questions whether or not their complexities are equal. The complexity of languages has been a topic for discussion and debates through the years, especially in language contact, historical linguistics, and creole studies. According to the author, when languages mingle over the years, most speakers end up learning a new language quite fast, which eventually will become a pidgin or a simplified version of it. When it becomes a “real” language ultimately, the result is still less complex and much simpler than a language considered as “non-interrupted” in so many years.

The simplification of languages, according to the author, happens in different levels, so one can’t simply say that language 1 is simpler than language 2. This incredible book makes a good read for those interested in historical linguistics and creole studies, as well as those who simply want to understand language complexity in general.

Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America (2005)

am - n/a gr - 3.8/5 stars

Winning the Race is a book that examines the origin of the problems facing black communities in the US today -- high incarceration rates, drugs, and poverty -- and contends that none of these are good enough reasons to explain the decline of black Americans since segregation was ended in the 1960s. according to the author, black Americans still have that sense of alienation and victimhood despite the fact that they have never experienced the racism of the segregation era.

McWhorter attempts to explain the effects of instilling what a black identity is, from gangsta rap’s glorification of violence and irresponsibility to living permanently on welfare. According to the author, none of these activities are a form of protest.

Racism is pretty much still rampant in the US, but McWhorter argues that both whites and blacks must move past blaming racism for every challenge faced by the black community, and offers what’s needed to be done to improve the future of black America.

Defining Creole (2005)

am - n/a gr - n/a

This book is actually a collection of McWhorter’s published articles on creole languages over the years. The articles are divided into three categories: defending his hypothesis that creoles can be synchronogically identified from other older grammars, addressing the mingling of creole languages and the changes that went it, and debunking the widely accepted idea that creoles differences from source languages are simply due to inflection.

Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care (2003)

am - n/a gr - 3.6/5 stars

The author expounds on the differences between formal and casual speech, and how the latter has been favored in America since the dawn of 19060 counter-culture. However, this has seriously affected Americans’ ability to read, write, imagine, argue, and critique, McWhorter says. While he believes that language naturally evolves over the time, the author notes the growing rift between spoken English and written English, in which written English has been vastly altered. While this is the trend in modern times, it can also mean a degradation if our intellectual powers that may affect “our very substance as a people.”

Authentically Black: Essays for the Black Silent Majority (2003)

am - n/a gr - n/a

This book is a collection of essays written that explores what it’s like to be black in modern day America. It addresses the common and serious issues faced by the black community, such as TV and film stereotyping, the reparations movement, racial profiling, hip-hop, affirmative action, and diversity. McWhorter calls for the true advancement of racial equality.

The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language (2001)

am - n/a gr - 4/5 stars

There are over six thousand languages known to men, and each language comes from the tongue first spoken by homo sapiens some 100,000 years ago. McWhorter believes that languages mutate and mix over time, and variety is created according to the usage of the species that speak them. In this book, the author reminds us that language is a dynamic and living entity that can adapt to whatever environment it touches.

Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America (2000)

am - n/a gr - 3.9/5 stars

Losing the Race carefully explores the topic of racism and how it is still rampant in modern day America. Born shortly after the civil rights era, McWhorter dares to say what most people find difficult to speak out: racism has left a lot of black Americans the disease of defeatism. This cultural virus roots from separatism, climatology, and anti-intellectualism -- all three making blacks their own worst enemies that hinder them form success.

The Missing Spanish Creoles: Recovering the Birth of Plantation Contact Languages (2000)

am - n/a gr - n/a

In this book, McWhorter once again argues the common belief regarding the origins of plantation creoles. Using historical, sociolinguistic, and linguistic data, the author argues that the “limited access model” of creole genesis should not be used. The model is based on the belief that the plantation creole languages were created because there were more African slaves than whites in colonial plantations, limiting their access to colonialists’ European languages. This prompted them to create their own language from whatever pieces they acquired from slave-holders. McWhorter says this is not true. Instead, plantation creole came from West African trade settlements and was the result of the interaction between slaves and whites, with some slaves getting transported in European countries.

Spreading the Word: Language and Dialect in America (2000)

am - n/a gr - 4/5 stars

Spreading the Word discusses the modern-day English used by the current generation of Americans. According to the author, these non-standard dialects are a variation of the standard English and not a bastardization of it. McWhorter likens this tendency to the way English is spoken in other countries, where non-English speakers mix English with their own language to create their own version of it, which is not at all considered “bad language.”

Word on the Street: Debunking the Myth of a "Pure" Standard English (1998)

am - n/a gr - 3.9/5 stars

Linguists have long criticized the changes in the English language and how words, syntax, sound, and slang have been created resulting in the bastardization of English. McWhorter says this is not true and believes that there is no pure Standard English since languages naturally evolve over time. This evolution comes from regional accents and speech patterns, which the author finds nothing wrong with. Instead, we must all learn to embrace these changes and accept that American English is a variety of English spoken in one nation. In America, the bastardization of English can refer to the growing rift observed between written English and spoken English. However, the author does note that written English should be improved and must be observed the way how it's supposed to be written.

Towards a New Model of Creole Genesis (1997)

am - n/a gr - 5/5 stars

Linguists have long established the structure of Caribbean creole languages is derived from many processes, which includes patterns of simplification, West African retention, and innate linguistic universals. This book presents a method of unifying these factors to create a single model of creole genesis. The author maintains that creole languages all come from one pidgin ancestor that was first observed on the West African coast. With a unified model, creole languages will have a more stable representation as a language of its own entity.


Remember, if you do not have time to read these books, you can listen to it on Audible. Right now, Audible has a free 30-day trial in which you can get two free audiobooks. Click here to get the free trial.

Last updated by Dark Webmaster on March 18, 2019
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