John McWhorter

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John McWhorter at the International Symposium On Malay/Indonesian Linguistics conference in Leiden

John Hamilton McWhorter V (born 1965) is an American linguist and political commentator.[1] He is the author of a number of books on language and on race relations. His research specialties are how creole languages form and how language grammars change as the result of sociohistorical phenomena.

Early life[edit]

McWhorter was born and raised in Philadelphia. He attended Friends Select School in Philadelphia, and after tenth grade was accepted to Simon's Rock College, where he earned an A.A. degree. Later, he attended Rutgers University and received a B.A. in French in 1985. He received a master's degree in American Studies from New York University and a Ph.D. in linguistics in 1993 from Stanford University.


Since 2008, he has taught linguistics, American Studies, and in the Core Curriculum program at Columbia University and is currently an Associate Professor in the English and Comparative Literature department there. After graduation McWhorter was an associate professor of linguistics at Cornell University from 1993 to 1995 before taking up a position as associate professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1995 until 2003. He left that position to become a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a libertarian think tank. He is Contributing Editor at The New Republic and writes regularly for Time Ideas. From 2006 to 2008 he was a columnist for the New York Sun and he has written columns regularly for The Root, The New York Daily News and Rupert Murdoch's The Daily.

He has published a number of books on linguistics and on race relations, of which the better known are The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English, Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why You Should, Like, Care, and Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America. He makes regular public radio and television appearances on related subjects. He is interviewed frequently on National Public Radio and is a frequent contributor on He has appeared twice on Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, once in the profanity episode in his capacity as a linguistics professor, and again in the slavery reparations episode for his political views and knowledge of race relations. He has spoken at TED (2013), has appeared on The Colbert Report and Real Time with Bill Maher,[2] and appeared regularly on MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes.

He is the author of the courses entitled "The Story of Human Language, "Understanding Linguistics: The Science of Language," and "Myths, Lies and Half-Truths About English Usage" for The Teaching Company. His 2003 Authentically Black has been interview-reviewed on, and he has also been interviewed on CSPAN's "Book Notes In Depth" series.[3]

Most of his academic work has concerned creole languages and their relationship to other ones, often focusing on the Surinam creole language Saramaccan. However, McWhorter has also been a proponent of a theory that the Ngadha language and related ones of the island of Flores originated when "little people" were "subjugated" into Indonesian society in the past, and he speculates this rare linguistic transformation would have occurred to the ancestor of Ngadha and the related Keo and Rongga languages.[4] More recently, however, he has revised this hypothesis and considers the Flores languages to have undergone transformation due to aggressive migrations from the nearby island of Sulawesi. This and other work of his on language contact worldwide is gathered in one of his anthologies of academic articles, Linguistic Simplicity and Complexity: Why Do Languages Undress?

Political views[edit]

McWhorter characterizes himself as "a cranky liberal Democrat". In support of this description, he states that while he "disagree[s] sustainedly with many of the tenets of the Civil Rights orthodoxy," he also "supports Barack Obama, reviles the War on Drugs, supports gay marriage, never voted for George Bush and writes of Black English as coherent speech". McWhorter additionally notes that the conservative Manhattan Institute, for which he works, "has always been hospitable to Democrats".[5] Regardless, McWhorter tends to lean more conservatively with his beliefs about American education and the means of achieving social equality; he, for example, questions the ideas of a liberal or humanistic education and has criticized left-wing and activist educators in particular, such as Paulo Freire and Jonathan Kozol.[6] One author identifies McWhorter as a radical centrist thinker.[7]



  1. ^ NY Daily News- Articles By John McWhorter
  2. ^ IMDB entry
  3. ^ Lamb, Brian (2003-03-02). "Authentically Black: Essays for the Black Silent Majority". Booknotes. Retrieved 2008-10-07. 
  4. ^ McWhorter (2006).
  5. ^ McWhorter, John (25 Jan 2011). "Frances Fox Piven, Jim Sleeper and Me". The New Republic.
  6. ^ McWhorter, John (5 March 2010). "Taking out My Eraser". The New Republic. 
  7. ^ Satin, Mark (2004). Radical Middle: The Politics We Need Now. Westview Press and Basic Books, p. 10. ISBN 978-0-8133-4190-3.

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