Jordan Peterson John McWhorter

John McWhorter

John McWhorter is an American linguist with a specialty in creole languages, sociolects, and Black English. He is currently an associate professor of linguistics at Columbia University, where he also teaches American studies and music history. He has authored of a variety of books on race relations and African-American culture. McWhorter has written for Time, The Wall Street Journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Washington Post, The New Republic, Politico, Forbes, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Daily News, City Journal, The New York Sun, The New Yorker, The Root, The Daily Beast, and CNN. He is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and, after writing op-eds for The New York Times for several years, became an Opinion columnist there in 2021. He hosts the Lexicon Valley podcast — for Slate from 2016 to 2021, and currently for Booksmart Studios.

Books Mentioned in this Podcast with Jordan Peterson & John McWhorter:

Book Title: Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Forever

Author: John McWhorter

Book Title: Woke Racism: How A New Religion Has Betrayed Black America

Author: John McWhorter

Book Title: The Language Hoax: Why The World Looks The Same In Any Language

Author: John H. McWhorter

Exploring Linguistic and Racial Concepts with John McWhorter

In this insightful episode of the Jordan B. Peterson Podcast, episode #241, Dr. Jordan Peterson engages in a thought-provoking conversation with Professor John McWhorter, a distinguished linguist, author, and professor at Columbia University. This article delves into the first third of their dialogue, exploring the complex interplay of linguistics, race, and socio-political thought.

John McWhorter: A Linguist with a Broader Perspective

John McWhorter, a contributing editor at The Atlantic and author of over 20 books, including the best-selling “Nine Nasty Words,” brings a unique perspective to the discussion. His expertise in linguistics, combined with his deep understanding of American studies and music history, shapes a multifaceted view of contemporary issues.

Linguistics: Beyond Words and Grammar

McWhorter explains linguistics as more than just the study of language translation or learning to speak different languages. It involves analyzing language as a scientific object, akin to biology, and delves into how language changes, the physiological processes of language production and comprehension, and how children learn language. His focus, however, lies in the evolution of language over centuries and the interaction and creation of new languages when different linguistic cultures meet.

Language Learning and the Human Brain

A fascinating aspect of their discussion revolves around the human capacity to learn language. McWhorter touches upon theories like Chomsky’s idea of a universal grammar encoded in our genes, a concept which, despite its intrigue, lacks concrete evidence. The conversation also covers Vygotsky’s notion of the “zone of proximal development” and its relation to how adults intuitively aid children’s language development.

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: A Critical View

McWhorter critically examines the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which suggests language shapes thought. While acknowledging the subtle influences of language on thought, he challenges the hypothesis’s stronger form, arguing that it often leads to oversimplified and sometimes offensive conclusions about different linguistic communities.

Music and Linguistics: An Interconnected World

The integration of music into the discussion brings an additional layer of depth. McWhorter, although not directly associating his love for music with his linguistic work, acknowledges the profound emotional weight music carries in language and communication. Peterson and McWhorter discuss the intrinsic relationship between music and language, and how music can represent harmonious patterns that reflect the complexities of human existence.

Navigating the Complexities of Racism and Language

Continuing the exploration of Jordan B. Peterson’s podcast episode #241, this article delves into the second third of the conversation with Professor John McWhorter. Here, the focus shifts to the intricate relationship between race, language, and societal issues, offering a deeper insight into McWhorter’s perspectives.

The Role of Standardized Tests in Racial Discussions

McWhorter addresses the contentious issue of standardized testing and its perceived racial bias. He challenges the notion that these tests are inherently racist, arguing instead for the need to help black students improve their performance. This viewpoint shifts the conversation from eliminating tests due to alleged bias to empowering students through education and practice.

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis Revisited

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which suggests that language shapes thought, is critically examined by McWhorter. He acknowledges the minor influences of language on perception but argues against its overstated impact. This stance is particularly significant in understanding linguistic diversity without oversimplifying or stereotyping different linguistic communities.

Music’s Intersection with Linguistics

The conversation seamlessly integrates music, showcasing its profound emotional and communicative roles in language. McWhorter, though not directly connecting his love for music with linguistics, acknowledges the intrinsic relationship between musical harmony and language patterns.

American Studies and the 1930s: McWhorter’s Fascination

McWhorter’s interest in American studies, especially the cultural aspects of the 1930s, offers a unique perspective on American history. His fascination with this era’s aesthetics and cultural milestones provides a window into the intersection of linguistics, culture, and history.

Critiquing Woke Racism

A significant part of the discussion revolves around McWhorter’s critique of “woke racism.” He argues that this new form of racism, while well-intentioned, often backfires and hinders the progress of black Americans. His insights challenge the mainstream narrative on race relations and call for a more pragmatic approach to tackling racial issues.

A Deeper Dive into Racial and Cultural Conversations

In the final third of Jordan B. Peterson’s podcast episode #241, the conversation between Dr. Peterson and Professor John McWhorter takes a turn towards examining deeper cultural and racial dynamics. This part of the podcast unpacks complex issues surrounding racism, individuality, and societal beliefs.

The Complexity of Racism in Modern Society

McWhorter and Peterson delve into the nuances of racism in contemporary society. They discuss the evolving nature of racism and the importance of recognizing its subtle forms. McWhorter challenges the simplification of racism as a black-and-white issue, emphasizing the need to understand its multifaceted character and how it affects individuals differently.

Standardized Testing and Racial Bias

A significant part of the conversation centers on standardized testing and the debate over racial bias in education. McWhorter critiques the idea of eliminating standardized tests due to perceived racial biases, suggesting instead that the focus should be on helping black students improve their performance. This perspective shifts the narrative from victimhood to empowerment, advocating for educational practices that genuinely aid students in overcoming obstacles.

Individualism vs. Collectivism in Racial Discourse

Peterson and McWhorter explore the tension between individualism and collectivism in the context of race. McWhorter expresses concern that the emphasis on group identity in racial discourse often overshadows the importance of individual experiences and perspectives. He argues for a more balanced approach that acknowledges both the collective and individual aspects of racial identity.

The Role of Music and Art in Cultural Understanding

The discussion also touches on the role of music and art in shaping cultural understanding. McWhorter, with his passion for music, highlights how artistic expressions can bridge cultural divides and provide deeper insights into the human experience.

Woke Racism and the Search for Virtue

McWhorter discusses his book, “Woke Racism,” critiquing what he sees as a new form of racism that, while well-intentioned, often does more harm than good. He challenges the notion of unearned virtue prevalent in woke culture, advocating for a more genuine, action-oriented approach to addressing racial issues.

Conclusion: Seeking Balance and Understanding

The final part of this podcast episode with John McWhorter offers a thought-provoking examination of complex racial and cultural issues. The conversation highlights the importance of seeking a balance between acknowledging systemic issues and empowering individuals to overcome challenges. McWhorter’s insights provide a nuanced perspective on the ongoing discourse surrounding race, education, and cultural understanding.