aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,


University departments of English in the USA depend for their budgets on large numbers of students taking 'core courses' on how to write, usually called 'Rhetoric and Composition.' But the weak point of almost all courses on 'Rhetoric and Composition' is that the graduate students who teach it [sic] -- all of them products of undergraduate courses in English -- know nothing useful about language, whether historical language or modern language. They spend much time on inculcating essentially eighteenth-century notions of 'proper English,' with rules about not beginning sentences with a conjunction and not ending them with a preposition, and so on. Their only analytic method, all too often, is the archaic notion of 'diagramming sentences,' at which both Grimm and Tolkien would have stared incredulously, and which most of the students furthermore cannot do. One day a college president is going to say, in effect: "there's no 'value-added' here, I've looked at the 'outcomes assessments,' I'm going to switch the core teaching to someone who can do it better" - such as the department of Communications Studies. If that switch is successful, and followed, then English Studies, or as Tolkien would have called it, 'literature,' will revert to the diminished status now held by, for instance, Classical Studies. It will pay the penalty for having exiled from its curriculum all forms of serious language study. The dying curse of Dame Philology, or perhaps of the great dragon Comparative Philology, will then have taken effect.

-- Tom Shippey, "Fighting the Long Defeat: Philology in Tolkien's Life and Fiction," from Roots and Branches: Selected Papers on Tolkien


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