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Publisher's Summary

Linguists have been studying Black English as a speech variety for years, arguing to the public that it is different from Standard English, not a degradation of it. Yet false assumptions and controversies still swirl around what it means to speak and sound "Black." In his first book devoted solely to the form, structure, and development of Black English, John McWhorter clearly explains its fundamentals and rich history while carefully examining the cultural, educational, and political issues that have undermined recognition of this transformative, empowering dialect. 

Talking Back, Talking Black takes us on a fascinating tour of a nuanced and complex language that has moved beyond America's borders to become a dynamic force for today's youth culture around the world.

©2017 John McWhorter (P)2019 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

Critic Reviews

“Superb.” (Steven Pinker)

“An explanation, a defense, and, most heartening, a celebration.... McWhorter 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)

What listeners say about Talking Back, Talking Black

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  • Bella
  • 11-08-2019

Truly Informative

Well done, John McWhorter! I enjoyed the approach of this book. As a black woman from Mississippi, I always cringed when people often said, “You don’t sound like you’re from Mississippi.” I know they mean, “You don’t sound black and southern.” Thank you for helping me understand MY language and my roots.

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  • Ambariffic
  • 16-05-2019

Very interesting look at Language Dialects in USA

I find the subject of linguistics super interesting and was very happy to find McWhorter several books ago, as he has a flair for explaining linguistic concepts in a way that is easy to grasp while still containing nuance. With that standard set, I'm happy to say that his insight in this book does not disappoint. Black English (or African-American Vernacular English, AAVE) is a complicated subject, socially speaking, and McWhorter helps frame it as the normal language phenomenon that it is by comparing its emergence to the existence of non-formal languages/dialects in other parts of the world. One particular point I found interesting was how McWhorter touches on the racist undertones of the idea that AAVE is 'broken' or 'wrong' English. While validating the racist undertones, he says (essentially) that accusations of racism are not conducive to the conversation on AAVE, and the linguistic arguments are the stronger arguments that it is a legitimate dialect of English. If you feel in your gut that AAVE/Black English is wrong, I really think giving this book a read is a good idea. It's short, to the point, and McWhorter's overall tone is knowledgeable while being accessible.

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  • Experimentrix
  • 21-11-2020

As much fun as all of McWhorter's works but also

enlightening. I am a fan of john McWhorter's books even as I have to blush at my mental red-penciling of other people's "bad grammar". He makes it clear that language is what the speakers make it, and that grammars are out of date on the day they are published. He teaches with humor and clarity, and yet challenges our thinking. In this book he brings all those skills to play, but also a fond relationship to the language of people he loves. I remember the days of Ebonics, but could never quite believe that black speech of that sort was a legitimate language. I am glad to be corrected, gently but firmly.

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  • Shaun
  • 07-10-2020

Eye opening and educational

Prof. McWhorter lays out the case as to why Black English is not only NOT bad grammar, but a language in and of itself. wonderful reading of his own work.

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  • Zirrus
  • 26-09-2020

A delightful listen!

I love McWhorter for his intelligence, humor and rational yet humanistic approach to reality. My parents were civil rights activists in Rochester, NY when I was born there in the 60s, and we lived in numerous places in the city that had a healthy population of Blacks, and though I often appreciated the rhythm and soulfulness of “Black American” language, I never realized how complicated and rule-following it was until listening to this audiobook. I had sung in the Gospel Group in college there, and although I could hold my own and belt it out if I had a strong singer near me that I could literally resonate with, I could have never taken a solo without embarrassing the hell out of myself (no pun intended). We went to a statewide Gospel choir gathering and this huge auditorium of people were in a big hall learning the new songs we were to perform the next day, and I was completely lost in the flurry. I could not believe how quickly they moved onto the next song! I went to the choir leader to express my frustration, and he chuckled and told me that most of the folks (I was one of only a handful of Whites involved) grew up singing these type of songs in church from when they were just babies, and I should just sit back and clap along and enjoy the experience. It was excellent advice. Black culture has given so much to our American culture, it is time for us to be raising each other up for all of our contributions rather than letting extremists on both ends of our political spectrum divide and destroy us. Thank you for an excellent book, I’m eagerly awaiting your next!!

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  • W. Norman
  • 21-08-2020

QED. Case closed.

The tools from historical and comparative linguistics will be familiar to fans of McWhorter’s other books and Great Courses. He applies them here to misconceptions about Black English that are still almost universally held by Americans of all ethnic origins. The case here for the utter normalcy of Black English as a real dialect is so thorough and accessible, there is no excuse — especially among policy makers and educators — for continued ignorance or disrespect. Tour de force.

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  • Esther Bautista
  • 16-08-2020

Really enjoyed this book.

I really enjoyed this book. It has given me an appreciation for how different cultures speak and use language. I am a John McWhorter fan! He is very interesting and funny. I love listening to him lecture on language. I recommend this book.

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  • Edward
  • 14-08-2020

Great Explanation to Long Asked Questions!

This book has been an amazing look into the language most of us speak yet understand so little, especially in how its spoken by most of us black people specifically. As always John McWhorter makes listening a pleasant learning experience while inserting just enough of his own personality and quirkiness to keep you thoroughly engaged.

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  • Robert Weide
  • 09-08-2020

McWhorter is the best!

Love McWhorter's work on linguistics. Book is narrated by him, which is even better! This will shatter your assumptions about Black English...

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  • Steve Yastrow
  • 22-07-2020

If you love English, listen to this book

John McWhorter, who is definitely “my favorite linguist,” helps us see the beauty in one of our richest English dialects, Black English, while also helping us understand the way it is seen by the American public. Highly recommended. Also hear McWhorter’s Lexicon Valley podcast.

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  • David Jackson
  • 28-05-2020

McWhorter brilliant as always

I always look forward to hearing John McWhorter's take on any subject of linguistics and this book did not disappoint. Finally I got the opportunity to hear a reasoned and thorough take on this extremely divisive subject.

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