DOING OUR OWN THING: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care

John McWhorter, Author . Gotham $26 (279p) ISBN 978-1-59240-016-4

Linguist and show-tune aficionado McWhorter (Losing the Race ) explores why American language and music are no longer crafted, honored or even well-regarded means of expression. The expected social formality of an earlier era, he argues, was eroded by the individualistic, multicultural values of the 1960s. The result: we talk rather than lecture, and we choose 50 Cent over Mahler. By unearthing Victorian-era speeches, early 20th-century newspapers and presidential addresses from the family Bush, McWhorter shows just how American English has, over time, taken on a permanent casual Friday uniform. McWhorter, who is African-American, suggests that hip-hop, spoken-word poetry and black English are the current defining modes of expression, with their fight-the-power messages of distrusting authority and "keeping it real." But, he notes, in contrast to the gentle, erudite oratories of the past, "[p]oetry that shouts can only be a sideshow. It cannot inspire a nation." Laden with contemporary pop culture references and humorous asides, this is an entertaining polemic that brings linguistics to the people, while lamenting the populist mentality that has made being cool more critical than being articulate. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 10/13/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-1-59240-084-3
Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-1-4464-7322-1
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