In this irreverent romp through territory too often claimed by stodgy grammarians, McWhorter ranges across linguistic theory, geography, history, and pop culture to tell the fascinating story of how thousands of very different languages have evolved from a single, original source in a natural process similar to biological evolution. While laying out how languages mix and mutate over time, he reminds us of the variety within the species that speaks them, and argues that, contrary to popular perception, language is not immutable and hidebound, but a living, dynamic entity that adapts itself to an ever-changing human environment.
The Power of Babel draws its examples from languages around the world, including pidgins, creoles, patois, and nonstandard dialects. McWhorter also discusses current theories on what the first language might have been like, why dialects should not be considered "bad speech," and why most of today's languages will be extinct in 100 years.
1. The First Language Morphs into 6000 New Ones
2. The 6000 Languages Develop into Clusters of Sub-Languages
3. The Thousands of Dialects Mix with One Another
4. Some Languages are Crushed to Powder but Rise Again as New Ones
5. The Thousands of Dialects of Thousands of Languages All Develop Far Beyond the Call of Duty
6. Some Languages Genetically Altered and Frozen
7. Most of the World's Languages Go Extinct
Epilogue: "Extra! Extra! The Language of Adam and Eve"