^ 4. The language of literature |
The language of literature is one particular variety of English to which we must pay special attention. The appreciation of literature and the evaluation of literary merit are activities with their own procedures and techniques which do not in general impinge on Contemporary English. But one aspect of the total study of literary texts is the detailed analysis of the language used in them, and of those linguistic devices which produce particular literary effects. This requires techniques of language analysis such as those employed by Contemporary English in other branches of its study. Here, then, is a real possibility of bridge-building, provided that we are clear from the outset that it is a joint effort, with the building proceeding simultaneously from both ends, and aimed at the same point in the middle. In other words, the specialist in contemporary language must work with and towards the specialist in literature, and the specialist in literature must work with and towards the language specialist.
It is worth stressing that those who attempt this task must be specialists. The field of Contemporary English has suffered from more than its fair share of well-meaning but ill-informed amateurs. Simply because one speaks the language there is no reason to suppose that one can produce, without further training, an insightful analysis of the complex interplay of patterns that make up our language.
For most people, it is only by experience, by training the sensibility, by learning the art of delicate discrimination, that insight into literature can become habitual. One kind of discrimination involved is the discrimination of the patterns of language; but this requires some detailed knowledge of what the patterns of language actually consist of, at all levels, and of how they interweave. Just as grammarians and specialists in linguistics are not automatically capable of making sensitive and illuminating statements about literary effect and artistic merit, so, too, the literary specialist if he expects his remarks about language to be of weight and worth must find a basis of linguistic understanding.
The essential point is that there is an important area of overlap between language and literature. It is possible to carry out studies in literature without touching the linguistic aspects of creative writing; it is equally possible to carry out studies in Contemporary English without touching the language of literature. But for either discipline to be full and complete it must take notice of the other.
Descriptions of English until recently have been largely prescriptive, they have been related to the written language, and they have used categories of description borrowed from Latin, not based on a general theory. This made it difficult to describe any other kind of English than the particular prescriptive model of written prose that was the subject of conventional grammatical description, since no adequate descriptive categories existed for other kinds of written English, or for any kind of speech. Yet it is precisely in literature that the linguistic patterns are at their most subtle and sophisticated, where the levels of sound, grammar, and lexis interpenetrate in the most complex and original ways. Our newer descriptions of English will at least remove this serious methodological impediment, since we believe them to be capable of embracing any and all of the possible patterns and variations of the language. There remains a whole set of relations between the literary text and the linguistic statement - relations of genre, argument, intent, and other devices - for which no adequate framework of description yet exists.
One further area of study deserves to be mentioned, and that is the extension of English studies into the realm of the mass media of communication. This is a terrain vague, in the sense that it is new, undefined, and not obviously the responsibility of any single discipline. It is related to education, to sociology, to literature, and drama, to journalism, and to language. Contemporary English obviously has an interest here, although not an exclusive interest.
^ 5. A triple bond between disciplines
In the first place there is a bond between science and humanity. There are three ways in which the study of language is in contact with science: two of them are rather trivial, but one is fundamental. The trivial contacts include, first, the use of scientific equipment and therefore of scientific modes of observation and measurement in the study of language; and second, the converse of this, the use by established scientific disciplines of linguistic concepts and techniques. As examples of the first I can cite instrumental and acoustic phonetics, the use of computer techniques for grammatical and lexical analysis, research into the physiology and psychology of language, and similar work. As examples of the second I should mention communications engineering, machine translation and
The non-trivial link, which lies in the nature of the linguistic theory which professor P.D.Strevens has mentioned as the unifying feature of Contemporary English. He is not one who tries to equate linguistics with the physical sciences, but it remains a fact that the theory and description which inform British linguistics are in the normal line of general scientific method. Consequently our attitudes towards techniques of observation, towards our data, towards theory, description, models, measurement, experiment, are scientific at base, even though the subject of our study, language, is inherently capable of being original, creative, artistic, beautiful, miraculous. There is no antagonism between the two outlooks upon language, and professor P.D.Strevens has always found his appreciation of the humane aspect of language heightened and extended by the contact. This is the first bond between the disciplines.
The second bond is a bond between language and literature. It is possible to study Contemporary English without studying the language of literature, and it is possible to study literature without studying the language used in literary works. But to carry out either task thoroughly means accepting the overlap and exploiting it. Here is an area where two disciplines interconnect, and where each can hope to contribute to the other. This is the second bond.
Finally, there is the obvious contact between the academic and the vocational spheres; between the programme of analysis and description of English on the one hand, and the programme in teaching English as a foreign language on the other. And this is the third bond.
Aids to study the text:
I. Answer the following questions and give your arguments:
What is meant by “Contemporary English”? Define its notion, its contents, aspects of study.
What does the Chair of Contemporary English at Leeds deal with? What are their main kinds of work?
Describe the academic side of studies of Contemporary English. Why is it so important? What are the main parts? What do you understand by the “subject of study” and methods used?
What are the relations between the “academic” and “vocational” aspects? Can they exist without each other?
Comment on the terms “the English language”, “sublanguages”, “varieties”.
What are the ways of approaching the study of the varieties of English? What do the varieties have in common?
What are the components of a complete description of any variety of Contenporary English? Give some comments on each of them.
Will you name the most important varieties of English? Give their specific features.
What methods are used in study of Contemporary English? What is their essence?
What can you tell about relationship between the academic content of Contemporary English and applied or vocational programmes for the study and teaching of English as a foreign language?
What does Strevens say about a doctrine in teaching English? What attitude towards language teachers prevailed in the UK and the USA in the nineteen sixties? What is meant by “a marriage of the two components”?
What are the main ways of raising English language teaching standards in Britain and abroad?
What does the author mean by “a triple bond between the disciplines”? Give your comments on the interrelation between disciplines.
II. Read, mark and discuss in pairs the following Strevens’ statements about the aims pursued by foreign learners of English:
As the medium of the literature and culture of English speaking countries;
For access to scholarly and technological publications;
To qualify as English teachers, translators and interpreters;
To improve their chances of employment or promotion in such areas as the tourist trade, international commerce or programmes for economic or military aid.
What statements of your own can you add to the list? Give your comments.
Chapter 5. Language and Representation
We see, hear and otherwise experience so largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation. ( Edward Sapir).
We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our (Benjamin Lee Whorf).
Language enables us to talk with each other. At the same time it enables us to talk about something. It provides us with not just a mode of interaction, but also with a capacity for representation. Now we turn to the IDEATIONAL possibilities of language. It is these which provide us with the means for apprehending and comprehending, to ourselves and with others, the world in which we live.
We are immediately faced, however, with a fundamental question: do all human languages represent the world in the same way; or do different languages (by virtue of their different vocabularies) provide different ways of experiencing and understanding the world, in much the same way as different kinds of speaking practice make possible different modes of relation?