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John McWhorter, Mark Z. Danielewski: Dictionaries and the Bending of Language

In conversation with Howard A. Rodman
Monday, April 11, 2016
Episode Summary

Through the etymology of words, the OED exhibits the shape-shifting nature of language across time, reflecting how it bends to the task of describing our evolving human experience. But is all change good? What is the role of the dictionary in reporting, recording, and refereeing language variation and change?

Linguist, political commentator and author of The Power of Babel and Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, John McWhorter talks with genre-busting author of House of Leaves Mark Z. Danielewski about whether dictionaries support or inhibit the idiosyncratic use of language as a means of creative expression.
Presented as part of the Library Foundation’s project, "Hollywood is a Verb: Los Angeles Tackles the Oxford English Dictionary".

Participant(s) Bio

John McWhorter teaches linguistics, music history, philosophy and American Studies at Columbia University. He is the author of The Power of Babel, Doing Our Own Thing, Our Magnificent Bastard Tounge, What Language Is, and the upcoming Words On The Move, and his academic specialty is language change and contact. His academic books on language include Defining Creole and Language Interrupted. He also writes on race as well as language for Time, CNN, the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Beast, and a monthly column on language for The Atlantic. McWhorter has published four audiovisual courses with the Teaching Company and has appeared often on National Public Radio (and twice at TED).

Mark Z. Danielewski was born in New York City and lives in Los Angeles. He is the author of House of Leaves, The Whalestoe Letters, Only Revolutions, The Fifty Year Sword, and The Familiar.

Howard A. Rodman wrote Savage Grace starring Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne, nominated for Best Screenplay at the 2009 Spirit Awards, and August, starring Josh Hartnett and David Bowie. He also wrote Joe Gould’s Secret, based on the memoir by famed New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell. He is the author of the novel, Destiny Express, set in the pre-war German filmmaking community. He is the president of the Writers Guild of America, West; a professor of screenwriting at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts; an Artistic Director of the Sundance Screenwriting Labs; and a member of the National Film Preservation Board. In 2013, in recognition of his contributions, he was named a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the government of France.