- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Gotham (October 13, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1592400167
- ISBN-13: 978-1592400164
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 21 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,204,287 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care Hardcover – October 13, 2003
"How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals" by Sy Montgomery
“This is a beautiful book — essential reading for anyone who loves animals and knows how much they can teach us about being human.” ― Gwen Cooper, author of "Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat" Pre-order today
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Acclaimed linguist McWhorter (The Power of Babel ) explores the social dynamics that have changed the English language since the 1960s and threaten to erode our intellectual prowess. Comparing past speakers from Abraham Lincoln to Mario Cuomo to more modern speakers, including President George W. Bush, McWhorter laments the loss of the art of oration, notwithstanding Jesse Jackson and the black preaching tradition. He traces the current emphasis on oral versus written speech across a variety of cultures and times. McWhorter focuses on the forces at work in the U.S. that have heightened the appeal of plain-speaking since the 1960s, including the influence of music, the breakdown of racial barriers, and the rise in immigration and technology. While he sees the trend toward emphasizing the oral over the written as "the celebration of the art in spoken language," he laments the impact on our ability to read, write, and critique. McWhorter's eloquent style and cogent analysis will appeal to readers concerned about trends in American education and communication. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
"Startling, provocative, and remarkably entertaining." -- The San Diego Union Tribune
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Let me focus on two lengthy chunks. Mr. McWhorter enjoys musicals. And believes that the quality of writing, both lyrically and musically, has declined significantly. Well, I cannot match him on chapter and verse, but there were lots of dreary and silly songs in musicals in the Thirties and Forties, and if these were, indeed Golden Years, why did this glory grow from the minstrel/vaudeville world that preceded it. If there was a decline since then due to language deterioration, how were the Thirties better than the Gay Nineties? But really, is "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" a song for the ages? Performed in his beloved piano bars? Remember Sturgeon's Law, which holds that "90 Percent of Everything Is Junk" and we just can't tell very well which is the 10 and which is the 90 while we're in it? The piano bar has performed that service after 60 or 70 years of winnowing.
Now, this is not to say that contemporary pop music isn't an almost primal cry for power, sex, and respect. But the problems this "music" exemplifies are bigger than the evolution from the written word to the spoken. And besides, even if McWhorter is unaware of it, there is lots of melodic and skilled and crafted material being written and performed today.
And his long and pointless discussion of opera? Well, I like the text supertitles. I like the operas sung in Italian, or German, or Russian. I even like the titles when the opera's in English. It takes a few moments to read the lines. I can do it....
Richard Mitchell addresses many of the questions McWhorter raises, but also has some clear and specific worries about what happens (other than boring piano bars) when we lose our language facility. A smaller vocabulary is like s smaller toolbox, and the fewer tools we have, the more often we must make do. A crescent wrench can perform as a hammer, but it slows the job and makes it less likely to be done at all, never mind done well.
Lots of interesting things in here, but too diffuse an argument and too much extraneous or repetitive material. I kept looking for the source of the essays that made up this tome, but apparently this is how it was composed. Disappointing.
1. Clever, subtle insights. I never knew that there was such a big difference between the written and spoken languages, nor that the divergence was as large as it is for languages that have been written for such a long time.
2. Another clever insight: Talks about how languages are flattened out as they get used over large amounts of space and among large numbers of people. (This would explain the simplicity of the Chinese vocabulary and the movement toward greater simplicity within English.)
3. The author points out that a lot of English grammatical rules have come from a Latin base and make the assumption that because something was so in Latin that it should be so in English. This explains why the cognoscenti think that sentences should not be ended with pronouns (among other rules that seem to have no reason). He also gives us references/ sources for the origins of these rules.
Bad points (they exceed in both number AND quality the good ones):
1. Lots of inaccessible vocabulary. (We know that you think it's cute that you can drop these words, but just what do they add that a simpler/ more common word would not have sufficed to use instead?)Rococo? Aught? Leitmotif? Imperious? Be for real here. (In spite of all these $5 words, he manages to misspell "Dr. Seuss" several times in the text.)
2. Strange value judgments. "Vulgar materialism"? If some people like to make money and others aren't as concerned, are the former people "vulgar"? Where did this come from in a book about language? He makes the case that there is no such thing as bad grammar. OK, fair enough. But what about the continuity of the Hebrew language over vast amounts of time? If someone had said that "there is no such thing as bad grammar," would Hebrew be the same all over the world?
3. This book goes on a great length, and I really wonder: "Were all these words necessary to say nothing in particular?"
4. What is wrong with parsimony in word choice? Scientific papers (which have a lot more to say than almost every political speech that is ever made) make it a point to use the fewest words possible to say something. Speeches given by various political candidates make use of beautiful word imagery and yet manage to say nothing in particular. Speeches given by Post-modernists/ Communists/ Fabian Socialists go on at great length and make elaborate images, but seem to say NOTHING MUCH when all the smoke and dust clears. So, I just don't see what is McWhorter's point in aggrandizing bloated rhetorical speech over plain speaking when neither necessarily says more than the other.
5. McWhorter made mention (in a roundabout way) that languages tend to get simplified/ flattened out the more people that use them. Why not apply this same reasoning to what he perceives as the simplification of speeches by modern day English speakers?
6. Ok, so some people are really attached to their languages? So now what? French people are eternally enamored of the beauty of their language (and tell the whole world so at every opportunity), but WHO CARES? Who speaks French? Who publishes anything of scientific import in French? English is not even an official language in the States (or England or Australia)-- and don't you just know that the world's second language is English?