John McWhorter

Which Languages Should Liberal Arts Be About in 2010?
December 13, 2010

We are to bemoan that universities across the country are eliminating or scaling back their foreign language departments. Or, what seems to arouse critics most is the disappearance of French, German, and Italian departments—what with Goethe, Balzac and Dante being pillars of a liberal arts education and so on. Yet, former French major and great fan of foreign language learning as I am, I’m not feeling as bad about this new trend as I am supposed to. I have as deep-seated a sense as anyone that an educated person is supposed to be able to at least fake a conversation in French.

The Great White Guilt on the Great White Way
November 22, 2010

The Scottsboro Boys playing at the Lyceum got some unwanted – more or less – publicity a little while ago when members of New York City’s Freedom Party picketed it for its framing of the plot in minstrel show format. The minstrel part is, in fact, the least interesting thing about a show whose main problem is being just plain hokey – which makes it as questionable to treat it as serious business as it is to picket it for the minstrelsy.

Kanye West: Bard or Bully?
November 16, 2010

Kanye West yelling that George Bush didn’t care about black people in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was not, in itself, interesting. He had a CD to plump for (Late Registration), as well as just plain himself to plump for, as he was a newer phenom then than the source of regular episodes of galumphing megalomania that he is now. Interesting, however, is West’s acute discomfort in his recent interview with Matt Lauer at actually being confronted with footage of his accusation, good and loud and right in his face. With all of his cockiness about so much, he couldn’t take it.

Why Tea Party Candidates Are Such Bad Orators (With Marco Rubio Being the Glaring, Terrifying Exception)
November 03, 2010

If there is one thing that remains untarnished in the Obama legacy thus far, it is that the man has raised the bar for public speaking in American political culture. Until a couple of years ago, this was a country where the last time anyone had made a speech worthy of anthologizing was Mario Cuomo in his “City on a Hill” speech way back in 1984.

Why Tea Party Candidates Are Such Poor Orators (With Marco Rubio Being the Glaring, Terrifying Exception)
November 03, 2010

Also, somewhere along the line, the Tea Party stars appear to have been taught that effective speechmaking requires regular incantation of swaggery little jabs of a “Make My Day” redolence. Presumably Ronald Reagan is the model, reinforced by Sarah Palin’s fondness for lines about pit bulls and reloading. But this works best when there is a certain “there” there to back it up; call it star quality, which all will admit even Palin has. Poor Ms. O’Donnell does not.

California Screamin'--The W-Word?
October 13, 2010

So this month’s flap over someone “using a word” is between Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown in their battle for the California governorship. The word this time, given the personnel, is not the N-word, of course--although wouldn’t you know, exactly that word has been brought in as a comparison. This time it’s whore, on a tape from last month that turned up of a conversation between Brown and an aide.

The Integration Jitters
October 05, 2010

This book is Eugene Robinson’s two cents on the dissolution of the old-school black identity, an identity largely based on grievance.

Bishop Long’s Opportunity for Redemption
September 29, 2010

The accusations against Bishop Eddie Long are, in themselves, not a “black” story, of course. We are accustomed to the spectacle of superstar preachers opposed to homosexuality, such as Ted Haggard and George “Rentboy” Rekers, caught with their pants down with people who are not women. However, the situation presents Long with an opportunity for true redemption, in that he could make a key statement to a black America behind the curve on the acceptance of homosexuality. It has become, quite simply, an embarrassment. Yes, homophobia is not limited to the black community.

Don't Believe the Hype About Aborigines, Yiddish, or Ebonics
September 02, 2010

LANGUAGE AS THOUGHT: WATCH OUT FOR THE HYPE Judging from how the Times magazine’s excerpt from Guy Deutscher’s new book has been one of the most read pieces in the paper for over a week now, the book is on its way to libating readers ever eager for the seductive idea that people’s languages channel the way they think--that is, that grammar creates cultural outlooks. “Oooh-mmmm!” I heard in a room once when a linguist parenthetically suggested that the reason speakers of one Native American language have prefixes instead of words to indicate mixing, poking, and sucking on food is because they

Don't Believe the Hype About Aborigines, Yiddish, or Ebonics
September 02, 2010

LANGUAGE AS THOUGHT: WATCH OUT FOR THE HYPE Judging from how the Times magazine’s excerpt from Guy Deutscher’s new book has been one of the most read pieces in the paper for over a week now, the book is on its way to libating readers ever eager for the seductive idea that people’s languages channel the way they think--that is, that grammar creates cultural outlooks. “Oooh-mmmm!” I heard in a room once when a linguist parenthetically suggested that the reason speakers of one Native American language have prefixes instead of words to indicate mixing, poking, and sucking on food is because they

Pages