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Summary

Conventional wisdom suggests English is going to the dogs, that bad grammar, slang, and illogical constructions signal a decline in standards of usage - to say nothing of the corruption wrought by email and text messages.

But English is a complicated, marvelous language. Far from being a language in decline, English is the product of surprisingly varied linguistic forces, some of which have only recently come to light. And these forces continue to push English in exciting new directions.

These 24 eye-opening lectures dispel the cloud of confusion that clings to English, giving you a crystal-clear view of why we use it the way we do and where it fits into the diverse languages of the world. Like an archaeologist sifting through clues to a vanished civilization, you'll uncover the many features of English that sound normal to a native speaker but that linguists find puzzling and also revealing.

For example, the only languages that use "do" the way English does (as in "do not walk") are the Celtic languages such as Welsh, which were spoken by people who lived among the early English and influenced their language in many subtle ways.

You'll also delight in considering modern controversies about how English is used. For example, "Billy and me went to the store" is considered incorrect, because the subject form, "I," should be used instead of "me." But then why does "Me and Billy went to the store" sound so much more fluent than "I and Billy went to the store"?

These examples and many more represent a few of the flash points in English's long history of defying rules, a process that occurs in all languages. You'll come away from this course with every reason to be a proud, informed, and more self-aware speaker of English.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

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

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Thought provoking and thoroughly enjoyable

If you could sum up Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage in three words, what would they be?

educational, entertaining and enjoyable

What other book might you compare Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage to, and why?

Prof McWhorter's other lecture series on the history of language because they are both of a high quality.

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

This is the third of his lecture series I've heard and he never fails to engage and entertain whilst leadimh the listener through some challenging ideas.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

It's 18 hours long, so no.

Any additional comments?

I came away feeling like I'd really learnt something new and thoroughly enjoyed the process. This is how all learning should be.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Marvellous!

This was enthralling, the content is fascinating and the lecturer is fun with a mesmeric style. I loved it!

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  • Quaker
  • 15-11-13

This course will turn you into a linguistics fan!

Any additional comments?

I never had any particular interest in linguistics, but I LOVE The Great Courses, and if you follow their Facebook page, you learn pretty quickly that two linguistics professors (John McWhorter and Anne Curzan) are constantly getting rave recommendations from listeners.

As a result, I have now taken the plunge, and thanks to The Great Courses, I am in danger of becoming a linguistics nut.

The title of the course (Myths, Lies, and Half-truths of Language Usage) is really just a provocative way to say that this comprehensive survey of the English language is guaranteed to bust any preconceptions you had about "proper" English.

John McWhorter is quick-witted, quirky, and clearly an expert in his field. Unlike with some professors, you won't be tempted to use the speed controls on your Audible app to speed him up. He moves quickly and packs a ton of information, stories, and silly asides into every 30 minute lecture. You get your money's worth.

Professor McWhorter covers the complete history of how English evolved to it's present-day state (or states, to be more accurate), making the point repeatedly that modern English is itself filled with shortcuts and bastardizations of its ancestors, all for the sake of economy and clarity.

You'll learn that prescriptivist notions of "proper" English never even emerged until the arrival of the printing press, and the first dictionaries didn't come until centuries later. So the notion that proper language usage is a fixed thing, frozen in time, is a relatively new phenomenon.

So be warned. If you are looking to learn what's "proper," you will likely be frustrated by McWhorter or any of the other linguistics offerings from The Great Courses. McWhorter repeatedly hammers home the point that language is fluid, and like it or not, all the grammar teachers in the world could never stop language in it's tracks.

Overall, a fun listen. The Great Courses has three other titles by McWhorter, and I will be buying them all!

33 of 34 people found this review helpful

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  • SamanthaG
  • 17-02-14

The "funnest" book on language ever

Prof. McWhorter maintains that "funnest" is not a word you can use, but I'll bet he knows what I mean.

Maybe the best thing I can say about this lecture series is that, like a very good and compelling novel, I found myself driving around the block or listening in the garage because I found it so engaging. On one hand, I didn't want it to end, but on the other, I did so that I could write a glowing review.

So many interesting tidbits about English and other languages and how words and expressions evolved. He gives great examples - some very humorous. He explains the difference between spoken and written language; in all languages, spoken is much more casual and less rigid than written, which allows you to plan, go back and re-write and edit (as I'm dong now) what's being written. He maintains that language is always evolving and will always continue to, and that the new electronic ways of communicating - e-mail, texting, IM, are really more like speach than writing. He finds no linguistic problem with these forms nor does he feel that they will affect the written language in a bad way.

He's very entertaining, easy to understand and skirts around socially offensive "bad" words without actually saying them, but in a very funny way.

I'll mention the applause between lectures as I did for another of the Great Courses Lecture series. I think it should be done away with - it's distracting.

22 of 23 people found this review helpful

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  • M. S. Cohen
  • 10-12-13

Fantastic! Never expected this to be so much fun

McWhorter is one of the best teachers I have ever had.

Energetic. Funny. Spontaneous! Educational!

Even if you never wanted to learn about the English language, you should listen to this book.

There are so many things in it about history, social history, language (of course), and grammar.

And I will try to use the phrase "obsessive progressive" as much as I can in daily life. (You'll understand when you listen to the book.)

Please, don't let the fact that this is a language course stop you. It's well worth every minute. (Although I confess I listen at 1.5 speed, but his voice doesn't suffer.)

Anyone who enjoys bill Bryson will enjoy Professor McWhorter

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • 10-02-18

I ‘do’ like this audiobook

I’ve recently listened to a few similar books on the same subject: English Grammar Boot Camp (the Great Courses), The Story of Human Language (the Great Courses) and Words and Rules (Steven Pinker) so this book was at a slight disadvantage because it would inevitably cover some of the same material, and indeed it did.

However, there was a decent amount of new stuff in there that I hadn’t come across before. For example, I hadn’t known that English was a very unusual language for its use of the ‘meaningless do’. When we ask a question we don’t say ‘play you the piano?’ we say ‘do you play the piano?’ As English speakers this sounds very familiar and normal, but it is actually a very rare feature of languages globally, and is one of the few things left to English by the old Celtic languages spoken by the original inhabitants of the British Isles. The same goes for our use of the present progressive tense: When someone asks us what we are doing we don’t say ‘I watch TV’, or ‘I peel potatoes’ we say ‘I am watching TV’ or ‘I am peeling potatoes’. Again, this seems normal to us but again it is rare and this use of the present progressive tense is another relic of Celtic times.

The narrator, John McWhorter, is brilliant and funny, and doesn’t have any problem bringing a relatively dry subject to life. I was familiar with him from listening to the linguistics podcast ‘Lexicon Valley’, which I also recommend.

He looks at a whole screed of other topics, such as double negatives and reflexive verbs and he takes a light-hearted pop at prescriptive English Grammar Manuals such as Strunk and White. Overall the audiobook is thoroughly entertaining and well worth a listen.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Christopher
  • 07-10-13

If you've studied some linguistics, skip it

Any additional comments?

If you haven't had any linguistics, go for it. You'll find this course series worth the time. Prof. McWhorter has a very natural lecture style and can convey the concepts clearly and interestingly.

If you've studied some linguistics (e.g., if you've take a 100-level university linguistics survey course already), you've probably already been exposed to all the content in this lecture series.

17 of 20 people found this review helpful

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  • Nancy
  • 05-03-14

Langauge treasures

This course was very interesting! The lecturer takes a rather non-traditional view about modern English language usage. He argues that several common grammar rules are based on preference rather than any sort of logic. His arguments are detailed and informative. He also provides some background on many other languages and explains how the English language is related. There are so many things that I learned about language during this course!

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Randall D. Raymond
  • 13-12-14

Deserves at least a six star rating

This is undoubtedly the best course and possibly the best audible product I've ever listened to. Not only is the content fascinating, but Professor McWhorter is an absolute genius as a lecturer. He explains sometimes difficult concepts with crystal clarity and spices things up with funny illustrations, humorous asides and even an occasional song.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • scott
  • 23-06-14

Enjoyed thoroughly - you will enjoy this professor

This is the second lecture I purchased from professor McWhorter. If you are a believer in the philosophy "take classes from great teachers, regardless of the subject" you will not be dissapointed. I listened to one of his other linguistic lectures and I was so happy with his performance and presentation I was compelled to try one of his other lectures. He is able to convey a great deal of information in a casual and entertaining series. One of the best I have listened to from learning company.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • BVerité
  • 10-06-14

So much fun!!! Best of the best!

Well I've listened to Prof McWhorter before, but never like this!!! These are his FINEST MOMENTS!!! He is so much fun in these lectures that it's like a different man from the last series I listened with him. (I still liked him then, he was just very serious. It was a serious topic.)
I'm not sure when this lecture series falls in his many Great Courses lectures on language, but it reminds me of the last week of school-- like this must be a later lecture for him bc he is so confident and funny. It's so much fun, and EVERYTHING is interesting!!!!
The best of the best!!
Content- it's about the English language and how it was formed but not too technical and very different from any English language book or course to which I've listened. It's the nuances I've never thought about. And it's very interesting. It's more than worth a listen for anyone remotely interested in words, English, or language in general. And if you like the prof, you will LOVE this. If you've listened to him and not liked him--- PLEASE GET THIS, you will find a whole new level to McWhorter and you'll love it!

9 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Jorge
  • 31-10-13

Excellent

What made the experience of listening to Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage the most enjoyable?

Well, this professor has a gift, he is able to talk, no matter what he says, you will not want to stop listening to him.

What other book might you compare Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage to and why?

The History of language

Which character – as performed by Professor John McWhorter – was your favorite?

There are not characters here, these are lectures, but Professor John McWhorter is a character on his own, I love when he pronounces different languages, his voice changes completely

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

not the kind of cry or laugh reaction, but makes you think, a lot.

Any additional comments?

the only danger I have with this professor is to believe everything he stays, but after thinking coldly, there are some points which could raise some discussion, pity this is a recording and I do not have the chance to ask him

3 of 4 people found this review helpful