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The Story of Human Language (The Great Courses: Linguistics # 1600)

4.44  ·  Rating Details ·  470 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
"I never met a person who is not interested in language," wrote the bestselling author and psychologist Steven Pinker. There are good reasons that language fascinates us so. It not only defines humans as a species, placing us head and shoulders above even the most proficient animal communicators, but it also beguiles us with its endless mysteries. For example:

* How did di
Audiobook, 0 pages
Published January 1st 2004 by Teaching Company
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Brian That would be in the Religious/philosophy section...this is linguistics.
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Petra Eggs
Nov 20, 2015 Petra Eggs rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015-read
I'm hoping this is more about words than it is about the production of them, Understanding Linguistics: The Science of Language, my last book, was really not. *Fricatives, bilabials and vocoids, are not anything like as interesting as cognates, dialects and creoles. A cognate is the same word in different languages that relates to the original language. I am also interested in why we use peculiar words that no other language uses. An example is "Do". Do you want to, are you going to do... Other ...more
Mark L.
Dec 07, 2011 Mark L. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2012
(I'm cheating a bit by saying I "read" this. Actually, I listened to the 18.2 hours of audio lectures that accompany this book in a set. This is a product of The Teaching Company.)

McWhorter is brilliant, just brilliant. A fantastic communicator. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire series, and it didn't hurt that he had me frequently chuckling at his cleverness.

As to substance, McWhorter knows what he's talking about. The changes languages go through—and especially the narrower topic of creoles—are h
Jason Koivu
Feb 08, 2012 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I now have a much better understanding of language, where it came from, how it got here, and where it's going.

"The Story of Human Language" is a Teaching Company course of 36 half-hour lectures by Dr. John McWhorter of Columbia University. It's been a while since I listened to this via cds borrowed from the library, but if I recall, McWhorter was a good speaker, who was easy to listen to. He must've been, otherwise I wouldn't have gotten through 18 hours of the stuff!

No, it's not riveting ALL t
Jan 16, 2009 Terence rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Linguists & the linguistically inclined
I love linguistics and I like John McWhorter (highly recommended: The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language) so this audio-book series from one of those "teaching courses" fitted my needs exactly - to wit, something to listen to on the way to and from work.

The first 12 lectures (the first volume) cover familiar ground but McWhorter is engaging and it's endlessly fascinating stuff. I have yet to listen to the 2nd and 3rd volumes but I look forward to it.
Shane Higgins
4.5 Fascinating (from Middle French fasciner (14c.), from Latin fascinatus, past participle of fascinare "bewitch, enchant, fascinate," from fascinus "spell, witchcraft," of uncertain origin. Possibly from Greek baskanos "bewitcher, sorcerer," with form influenced by Latin fari "speak") Stars
Clif Hostetler
Jul 10, 2009 Clif Hostetler rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Human language is a fascinating subject. We don't appreciate how complex language speaking skills are until we try to learn a new language as adults. It's one thing that children can do better than adults. Brain studies suggest that human brains are uniquely programmed to use language, and children's brains are uniquely adept at learning languages. This adeptness is lost as we age.

The Story of Human Language by John McWhorter is a collection of thirty-six lectures on the history and study of hum
Mar 06, 2015 sabisteb rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hörbücher, sachbuch
John McWorther ist mein Lieblingslinguist, der von meinem Prof, warum auch immer, konsequent ignoriert wird und auch dieses Semester erneut auf der Leseliste fehlt (genau wie Seth Lerer).
Nach „Our maginifent bastard tongue“ habe ich mir nun „The Story of Human Language” gegeben. Vieles überschneidet sich, insgesamt geht es in diesem Hörbuch aber mehr um allgemeine Linguistig und linguistische Phänomene aus vielen verschiedenen Sprachen.
Dieser Kurs umfasst 36 Vorlesungen à 30 min, was 12 x 90 min
Apr 18, 2016 Laura rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, language
McWhorter is that memorable teacher or professor you had, the one who was witty and self-deprecating and who could keep a room full of students riveted seemingly without effort - which is fortunate because "The Story of Human Language" is a collection of 36 hours' worth of his lectures. It is a tremendously rewarding and entertaining listen, partly because of the content but also because of McWhorter's charm as he relays vast amounts of information in a way that is accessible but never condescen ...more
Jun 26, 2016 Shalini rated it it was amazing
There comes a point in life when one has to concede that life is too short to do all the learning one intends. I realised that about learning a new language. But that does not stop my fascination with languages, the history and evolution, the variations and the way non-native speakers construct language. McWhorter weaves well known theories into a coherant linguistic course. I have finally understood why my Nigerian friends can converse in Jamaican Patwa and call it Pidgin English which I can ha ...more
Abdullah Konash
Oct 16, 2015 Abdullah Konash rated it it was amazing
A very intriguing and interesting book. Opened something totally new for me to think about.
Dec 04, 2016 Mindy rated it did not like it
I thought it would be about how languages came to be where they are now and not just pronouncing words from different languages and how those words changed over time. The thing I remember most from the book was that Japanese words all end in a vowel or N, only interesting thing.
Matt Musselman
Dec 05, 2016 Matt Musselman rated it it was amazing
Shelves: format-audiobook
One of the best crash courses in linguistics and language history you're going to get.

John McWhorter is admittedly a bit Euro-centric in his materials (with the vast majority of examples being from English, French, German, Latin, etc), but at the end I'm pretty certain this was an effort to resonate with a primarily Euro-centric audience, and he pulls in key concepts from Chinese, Filipino, Khosa, Sanskrit, and any number of tribal languages and creoles where needed.

He also teaches some broader
Apr 25, 2016 Nilesh rated it liked it
The human language course is excellent in the way it is structured but too detailed for anyone except the experts of this highly specialized field.

The instructor makes the content extremely interesting. His storytelling ways make even the most arcane facts fascinating. From accents, dialects, to pidgins and Creoles, one learns of numerous language nuances. The course structure seamlessly moves from one sub-topic to the next, while retaining the continuity and conveying progress all the way from
Tony duncan
Mar 22, 2009 Tony duncan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
WOW, What a great series of lectures. I am vaguely familiar with linguistics and this audio book just swept me away both with the general principles and almost all of the myriad examples used to point out the nooks and crannies of almost every aspect of language. the author is a very good, entertaining speaker.

Of course it is just a survey overview of linguistics. but there was almost no information that was not intriguing and informative. While the focus is mostly on indo-europena languages, he
Jan 26, 2016 Chuck rated it really liked it
I have always enjoyed the Great Course Lectures. I view the courses as a serendipitous journey into a topic guided by an expert in the field. I have also found that I gain the most benefit if I do not harbor preconceptions, expectations or assumptions about the content of a course. That does not mean I always agree with the material presented. But even in those cases, I find I benefit if I listen to the presenter's argument before dismissing anything.

The Story of Human Language by John McWhorter
Aug 08, 2015 Kiril rated it it was amazing
Ah, I am really going to miss this one. I have always been fond of languages, but I had mostly approached them with a particular focus on studying them as a means of communication. Right from the start of this course I knew that I was going to love it. Professor John McWorther is exactly the type of person you would like to see in the auditorium: a person who knows their field inside out but does not fail to introduce a couple of jokes every now and then, facilitating the sinking in of new infor ...more
Jul 31, 2016 Rosa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Olen tänä kesänä kuunnellut äänikirjoja Amazonin Audiblen kautta. Valikoimassa on kaunokirjallisuuden lisäksi myös muun muassa The Great Courses -sarjan luentoäänitteitä, joihin tämäkin teos kuuluu. En ollut ennen tätä kesää lukenut pitkään aikaan juurikaan tietokirjallisuutta vapaa-ajallani, mutta nyt minulla on päällä hyvä tietokirja-boogie, josta kiitos kuuluu osittain näille äänikirjakursseille.

The Story of Human Language käsittelee ihmiskieltä ilmiönä ja vastaa sellaisiin kysymyksiin kuin m
Sep 03, 2009 Michael rated it it was amazing
Part I: Thought provoking and entertaining. McWhorter does a terrific job explaining how languages change and the historical reconstruction of proto-language families (e.g., proto-Indo European). These lectures are as good, if not better, than the Intro. to Linguistics course I took in college.

Part II: Great introduction to linguistic concepts concerning dialects and language mixtures. I've heard some of this material before, but these lectures are in greater depth and better illustrated. McWhor
Mar 18, 2016 Sohvi rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The lecturer made a lot of jokes. Some of them were funny, some not and some were outright insulting. Let's start with some obvious ones. Please don't make jokes about slavery. That is not okay. And use words like "negro" only if you have a direct historical quote or historical instance you are referring to.

This was also way too long, and repetitive. The same things were told over and over again.

And even though I am not a linguist and I only listen to these because I have boring hobbies, I cou
Apr 07, 2016 MBJ rated it really liked it
This course provides a good basic history of spoken language, but I was disappointed that there was no discussion of written language. From the cover of the course, which shows a picture of papyrus with hieroglyphics, I assumed that this would be so. I thought the course was too long and could easily have been condensed. Cutting out some of the lengthy anecdotes would have helped. A little humor and some anecdotal material are certainly desirable to liven up any course, but I thought there was t ...more
Jul 11, 2011 Joann rated it really liked it
One of the many Great Courses series offered by The Teaching Company. This one is in 3 sets. Each set contain 6 CD'S with usually 2 lectures on each CD. Of the courses offered on DVD, the # of discs may vary. I usually get the CD courses from my library, and so far I've enjoyed almost all the ones I've ordered. One of the best features is that each set contains a very complete lecture guidebook. You can always backtrack, and re-listen as you wish.

This topic is far more heavy duty than I had expe
Feb 22, 2016 Andrew rated it really liked it
Overall this is exactly what I hoped it would be: a great primer to the field of linguistics. There were a few times they McWhorter commented that listeners may want more etymology, but I thought he shared enough examples and was happy that he spent more time on other topics.

One complaint I have is McWhorter's attempts at humor that more often came off as bratty and condescending dismissals of other cultures (e.g. his repeated mocking of Portugal and Portuguese). His self-deprecation was fine,
Neil Pearson
Nov 10, 2016 Neil Pearson rated it it was amazing
I checked this out as a follow up to Melvin Bragg's "history of English" and I'm really glad i did. This series of lectures is interested in languages as a whole and how they are prone to change in predictable ways (as well as unpredictable ones). Simple things like defining a language to how new ones form and why some are tonal are very clearly communicated by McWhorter who has a real knack for teaching - adding humour and never droning on in a monotonous fashion. It only sagged a little in the ...more
A. Roy King
Sep 30, 2015 A. Roy King rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
"The Story of Human Language" is a series of audio lectures by Columbia linguistics professor John McWhorter. I would compare the content to what you would receive in a very good introductory course in linguistics. McWhorter speaks in an engaging style and shows a good sense of humor.

Some of the best insights in this lecture series fall in the area of language change. Also, McWhorter is an expert in the field of creole languages and has a lot to say on that topic that I had not heard before.

I wo
David Everling
May 25, 2011 David Everling rated it liked it
A good course but I didn't like McWhorter's teaching as much as other TTC Language professors (e.g. D.C. Drout). McWhorter is particularly studied in language classification and the various forms of language variation (creoles, dialects, birth and death of languages, taxonomies, e.g.). That said my main peeve on McWhorter is that he has some irksome teaching tendencies and sometimes belabors a topic; his examples often turn devolve into tangential linguistic trivia instead of a concise illustrat ...more
Dec 07, 2015 Alcibiades rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another great lecture, introduced how language changes throughout history. The author narrates with a lot of humor, interesting facts and insights that reveal what is a language, dialect or pidgin, creole, and how they developed, morphed, became more complex or simpler, died.

One of the most insightful aspects of this lecture is that it clears a lot of prejudices one once held towards some languages, dialects or certain language behaviors, such as black languages, made clear in the lecture, is a
Jon Barr
Nov 16, 2013 Jon Barr rated it really liked it
I can't recall what led me to pick up this lecture series... I know I was meandering through the library looking for something interesting, and I recall the good taste in my mouth left by the other lectures I'd enjoyed by this company (Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life, by the late Rufus Fears). But that doesn't really explain why I would decide to spend 18-ish hours listening to a very educated man tell me about language.

I am so glad that I did. With a perfect mixtur
Aug 30, 2016 Melle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who love language
This is a course for language nerds, and it's even better shared with another language nerd than just enjoyed on one's own. John McWhorter makes a delightful commute companion/car husband -- his examples, his digressions, his asides are all charming and often hilarious. More than that, his approach to language as a descriptive linguist is infectious in its embrace of languages -- and how they change, grow, evolve, die -- as they are being used to express, to share, to transfer information, ideas ...more
M. Patrick
Dec 03, 2013 M. Patrick rated it it was amazing
If you love the mystery and power of language you will devour all 36 of the the 30-minute lectures that comprise John McWhorter's The Story of Human Language. It is like taking a freshman level linguistics course that explains in understandable terms the major concepts in the study of language. McWhorter's clever lecture style which includes allusions to things both pop and antique as well as a generous helping of corny but funny stories from his research. This book should be prerequisite readin ...more
Mary Zemina
Jun 05, 2015 Mary Zemina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this lecture series really interesting and informative. I've been interested in languages and linguistics in a vague, distant sort of way for years, so this was a really good introduction to the deep well of knowledge and possible topics to explore within the field. The lectures were fairly easy to understand, and most were interesting and engaging. I do wish that artificial/constructed languages had been discussed in more depth, though, since that was one of the topics in this series I ...more
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Dr. John McWhorter is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He earned his B.A. from Rutgers University, his M.A. from New York University, and his Ph.D. in Linguistics from Stanford University. Before taking his position at the Manhattan Institute, he held teaching positions at Cornell University, where he held the position of Assistant Professor, and at the University of California, Berkele ...more
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