Top critical review
Decent intro to historical and sociolinguistics
on 30 May 2017
Decent and easily readable pop sci introduction to basic elements of (historical) linguistics: language as a spectrum of dialects, the nature of sound change, semantic shifts, and some bits and bobs on sociolinguistics. The main argument is to stop seeing languages as official, immutable things, and dialects, accents, creoles etc as degenerate forms, but rather to recognize that all languages are just a version or variant of a broad range of possibilities.
Very little in this book, including that lesson, will be new to people with a basic grasp of linguistics, but for complete newcomers it's a useful and entertaining read. McWhorter also makes the useful point that 'culture' actually has relatively little to do with the shape of language, and that therefore the importance of language preservation, for which he makes an impassioned plea at the end of the book, is not best defended by claiming that each language preserves unique cultural heritage. Rather, languages are worth preserving in their own right, just like biodiversity is - an argument that seems to me right. Even so, McWhorter is gloomily pessimistic about the prospects of achieving either.
Two caveats: the book is pretty superficial if you already know anything about the subjects in question, all the more since for ease of entry McWhorter studiously avoids using any proper terminology from linguistics; and to make it accessible, it is heavily larded (too much so for my taste) with pop culture references. The problem with that is that those tend to go out of date really fast, which in this book from 2001 is already noticeable.