Book Summary: Words on the Move by John McWhorter

Words on the Move by John McWhorter Book Cover

In his book “Words on the Move,” John McWhorter takes readers on a fascinating journey through the history and evolution of the English language. McWhorter, a professor of linguistics at Columbia University, argues that English is a language that is constantly changing and evolving, and that this is a good thing. He dispels the myth that proper English is static and unchanging, and instead encourages readers to embrace the natural evolution of our language.

Chapter 1: “The Battle for English”

In the first chapter, McWhorter introduces readers to the idea that English is a language that is constantly changing. He discusses the ongoing debate between prescriptivists, who believe that there is a “correct” way to speak and write English, and descriptivists, who believe that language should be studied and documented as it is actually used. McWhorter argues that while there may be certain rules and conventions that help us communicate effectively, language is ultimately a living, breathing thing that should be allowed to evolve naturally.

Chapter 2: “The Great Vowel Shift”

In this chapter, McWhorter delves into the history of the English language, beginning with the Anglo-Saxon period. He discusses the Great Vowel Shift, a major change in the pronunciation of English vowels that took place between the 14th and 18th centuries. McWhorter argues that this shift was not a result of a conscious effort to standardize English, but rather a natural evolution of the language. He also notes that the Great Vowel Shift was not unique to English, but occurred in other languages as well.

Chapter 3: “The Bard and the Bible”

In this chapter, McWhorter explores the influence of Shakespeare and the King James Bible on the evolution of English. He argues that while these works have had a significant impact on the language, they were not the sole drivers of change. Instead, he suggests that English has evolved through a combination of factors, including cultural and technological changes.

Chapter 4: “The American Way”

In this chapter, McWhorter discusses the unique evolution of American English. He notes that while American English shares many similarities with British English, there are also some notable differences. These include the pronunciation of certain words, the use of certain grammar structures, and the influence of immigrant languages.

Chapter 5: “The Digital Revolution”

In the final chapter, McWhorter explores the impact of technology on the evolution of English. He notes that the rise of social media and texting has led to the creation of new words and phrases, as well as the redefinition of existing ones. He also discusses the potential impact of machine translation and other technologies on the future of English.

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Overall, “Words on the Move” is a fascinating and informative book that provides readers with a deeper understanding of the evolution of the English language. McWhorter’s arguments are well-researched and thought-provoking, and his writing is engaging and accessible. Whether you’re a linguistics expert or simply someone who is interested in the history and evolution of language, this book is sure to be a valuable addition to your library.

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