English teaching: Johnson: Talking past each other

When I got to college, I had already learned complex grammar fairly well thanks to 3 years of High School Latin. At the University of Toronto during grad school, I took a history of the English language course, which helped tremendously when I later took a medieval drama course. It was very clear during that language course that a good portion of my classmates were hearing much of the grammar for the first time. One student who was copying rules from a textbook shook her head in disgust and said, “This is all alphabet soup.” I’m not quite sure what she meant.

20140321-154614.jpgEnglish departments should require an interdisciplinary class with linguistics on the grammar of the English language. Literature departments should cultivate more scholars who focus on language itself rather than literature alone. Their academic research could focus on historical changes in English; how literary writers employ grammar devices; data-driven analysis of great English writing; the use of dialect and non-standard English; and so on. In exchange, linguistics departments should require their students to take an English department class, to let those scientifically minded students broaden their horizons with the close reading of literary texts. — The Economist.