John H. McWhorter, “The Creole Debate” (Cambridge UP, 2018)


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John H. McWhorter is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He has written academic books on creole linguistics, including the book we’ll be talking about today, but also a number of popular books on language (including The Power of Babel), and black identity in the United States. He is a regular columnist for several US broadsheets; he’s a two-time TED talker; and he has a weekly podcast dealing with issues related to language called Lexicon Valley which is worth checking out if you’re listening to New Books in Language.
In this interview, McWhorter discusses his recent book The Creole Debate (Cambridge University Press, 2018). Making the case that prominent scholars in creole studies have systematically mischaracterized the nature of creole languages, McWhorter calls for a more intellectually honest engagement with the empirical evidence, both from “syntactocentric” formal linguists, and from creolists concerned that treating creoles as typologically distinct is tantamount to neocolonialism.
John Weston is an Yliopisto-opettaja (University Teacher) in the Language Centre at Aalto University. His research focuses on the relationships between language variation, knowledge and ethics. He can be reached at @johnwphd.
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