Talking Back, Talking Black

Talking Back, Talking Black : Truths About America's Lingua Franca

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ACCLAIMED, IN-DEMAND AUTHOR: John McWhorter has built a reputation among readers, booksellers, and librarians for addressing controversial topics and contemporary issues through the linguist's lens. He is a New York Times bestselling author, has guest blogged for Powell's, and has had two previous books on language selected for the Indie Next list. In addition to being a columnist for major print and online outlets, he hosts the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley and is regularly interviewed on NPR, CNN, and MSNBC. His TED talk ("Txtng is killing language. JK!!!") has over two million views.

HARDCOVER SUCCESS: The publication of the original hardcover edition of Talking Back, Talking Black was met with considerable critical attention: in a feature-length review, the New Yorker praised McWhorter's "intelligent breeziness" and the book's "considerable charm," while the New York Times Book Review declared that McWhorter "ably and enthusiastically breaks down the mechanics." McWhorter has presented and discussed the book on C-SPAN's Book TV, WNYC's All Things Considered, numerous podcasts, and in the Talks at Google series.

A BOOK OF THE MOMENT: Talking Back, Talking Black is McWhorter's first book dedicated entirely to Black English for a lay audience and offers an in-depth look into a subject he is often called upon to contextualize in light of breaking news, including the BLM movement and campus unrest. As a number of prominent authors examine the systematic injustices levied against black Americans to this day, McWhorter ably tackles the stigma against Black English.

UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE: McWhorter's perspective on Black English is unique in how he considers American history closely but also places it in context by taking an international approach. Examining evolving dialects around the world, he argues that America, as an immigrant nation, is similar to countries such as Sweden, Germany, Norway, and others, where immigrants have transformed the country's primary language to create an empowering lingua franca of their own.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 192 pages
  • 127 x 191 x 15.24mm | 181.44g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 1942658583
  • 9781942658580
  • 1,460,948

Table of contents

It's Complicated: A Toy Piano Isn't a Steinway, Right?: The Real Story About Black English Grammar
What Do You Mean "Sounds Black"?: Don't Black People Just Have Southern Accents?
But They Can't Talk That Way at a Job Interview!: Why Americans Think You Can Talk Only One Way
Speaking Black or Speaking Minstrel?: And How Much of It Did White People Make Up?
Through a Lens Darkly?: Perceiving Black English as It Is: Life Lessons
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Review quote

Praise for Talking Back, Talking Black

Literary Hub "Titles for the Times" selection
Chicago Woman magazine "Must-Read Book on African American Culture" selection
Journal of Blacks in Higher Education "Books of Interest" selection
Tablet magazine's Unorthodox "Year's Literary Highlights" selection
Literary Ashland "What People Are Reading" selection

"Superb." -Steven Pinker

"In [Talking Back, Talking Black], McWhorter offers an explanation, a defense, and, most heartening, a celebration of the dialect that has become, he argues, an American lingua franca. . . . [He] demonstrates the `legitimacy' of Black English by uncovering its complexity and sophistication, as well as the still unfolding journey that has led to its creation. . . . [His] intelligent breeziness is the source of the book's considerable charm." -New Yorker

"Talking Back, Talking Black is [McWhorter's] case for the acceptance of black English as a legitimate American dialect. . . . He ably and enthusiastically breaks down the mechanics." -New York Times Book Review

"A fascinating exploration-and celebration-of Black English in America." -Tablet magazine's Unorthodox podcast

"McWhorter considers complex issues and leaves the reader with a more clear understanding of language and the implicit assumptions surrounding it. . . . In this time of great anxiety and injustice, [Talking Back, Talking Black] provides insight into a cultural issue that has long been written off and snubbed by many. And as such, his book is proving itself to be about so much more than just language." -MARY Journal

"Drawing on research, popular culture, and his own expertise as a linguist and black American, McWhorter conveys the roots and richness of the dialect that has come out of the experiences of black Americans. . . . [Talking Back, Talking Black] is an engaging look at the English language as spoken by many black Americans as well as the long history of stereotyping that has prevented an objective analysis of a rich language tradition." -Booklist

"A vibrant separation of an African-American vernacular tradition from the thickets of contemporary racial debate." -Kirkus Reviews

"Well suited for those who have an interest in black studies, education, history, language, or cultural studies." -Library Journal

"Linguistics fans will be enthralled by McWhorter's fascinating and logically presented study." -Shelf Awareness for Readers

"A scholarly, in-depth analysis of Black English. . . . Fascinating." -Midwest Book Review

"In Talking Back, Talking Black, John McWhorter, the maestro at communicating linguistics to the public, succeeds in helping the reader to `actually hear Black English in a new way,' while hipping linguists to some features of this vibrant variety they might not have considered before." -John R. Rickford, former president of the Linguistic Society of America and coauthor of Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English

What Booksellers & Librarians Are Saying About Talking Back, Talking Black

San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate "Recommendations from Bay Area Independent Bookstores" selection
Book Are Magic "Necessary Nonfiction for Black History Month" selection
Library Journal/GOBI Library Solutions "Language Best Sellers of the Year" list
University City Public Library "Book Challenge" selection
Darien Library "Staff Reading" pick

"McWhorter examines not only the vexed past [of Black English], but also the dynamic and difficult present of this vibrant force in cultures around the world." -Rakestraw Books (from SF Gate)

"With deep sincerity and accessibility, McWhorter addresses why Black English is a dialect and should be treated as a valid way of speaking in the US. This book is so smart and thoughtful." -Danni Green, Books Are Magic (Brooklyn, NY)

"John McWhorter does an excellent job making the case for Black English as a fully fledged dialect of English. He also does an excellent job of presenting the linguistic arguments in a way that is easy to digest." -Nathaniel Hattrick, Liberty Bay Books (Poulsbo, WA)

"Perfect for amateur linguists looking for a new angle on current discussions of diversity. John McWhorter doesn't get too technical as he discusses the mechanics of AAVE, but draws attention to the subtle aspects of the dialect." -Sarah Rettger, Porter Square Books (Cambridge, MA)

"Timely in the sense we should have already been talking about it, but thank God someone is talking about it now; McWhorter tackles the idea that African American Vernacular is grammatically incorrect. Decades of associating Black English with error has fed into our nation's history of racism and vice versa. It is imperative, especially in today's political landscape, that we tackle our hidden prejudice and examine what makes it so. Easy to read in an evening; McWhorter explains not only the grammatical aspects of AAV, but examines cultural backgrounds and the political landscape of race as well. Do yourself a favor, read this book, then take a hard look in the mirror. I know I will." -Atticus Solomon, Literati Bookstore (Ann Arbor, MI)

"[McWhorter] explains tricky grammatical and linguistic concepts with humor and energy, making this a fun and informative read." -Kathleen, University City Public Library (University City, MO)

"[McWhorter] presents a broader, reframed argument with the sociocultural context necessary [for Black English] to be accepted more broadly. . . . I was hooked on this book at the dedication: saying of his daughter, `I hope she will read this as soon as she is old enough to take it in, to make sure she never for a second thinks black people's speech is full of mistakes.'" -James McNutt, Darien Library (Darien, CT)

Select Praise for John McWhorter

"McWhorter debunks some of our most persistent myths about language." -NPR

"McWhorter makes all the right arguments, and he makes them clearly." -New Yorker

"McWhorter's prose crackles, his pop-cultural references pop." -San Diego Union-Tribune

"With his passionate eloquence, [McWhorter] makes readers glimpse the wonder of languages." -Newsday

"McWhorter's goal is to shine some light on topics he feels that authors of the typical `grand old history' of English, with their `fetish' for vocabulary at the expense of grammar, have left out." -New York Times Book Review

"Do you think Black English is a `dialect' full of `mistakes'? You're likely to change your mind about its `languageness' after reading Mr. McWhorter." -Wall Street Journal
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About John McWhorter

John McWhorter teaches linguistics, Western civilization, music history, and American studies at Columbia University. A New York Times best-selling author and TED speaker, he is a columnist for, a regular contributor to the Atlantic, a frequent guest on CNN and MSNBC, and the host of Slate's language podcast, Lexicon Valley. His books on language include The Power of Babel; Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue; Words on the Move; Talking Back, Talking Black; and The Creole Debate.
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Rating details

345 ratings
4.01 out of 5 stars
5 30% (102)
4 46% (159)
3 21% (73)
2 3% (9)
1 1% (2)
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