Language and Literature: A symbiotic relationship Teaching language throughliterature: Problems and Principles (Part 2) [Archives:2003/642/Education]

June 19 2003

Dr. Damodar Thakur
Professor and Chairman
Department of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Sana'a

Summary of Part 1

During the pre-World War period, teaching English was synonymous with teaching of English literature. Freedom from the British colonization and subsequent emergence of linguistics as an academic discipline led many countries to rethink about the role of English in their curriculum. Teaching of English language and literature were perceived as two separate but allied disciplines. One of the most important reasons for teaching literature is to make the teaching of the basic language skills emotionally sustaining and intellectually elevating.

Reasons for Teaching Literature
(2) One of the major difficulties of some of the very poor learners of a foreign language, for some of the very poor learners of English in Yemen, for example, is that they cannot organize their ideas in a coherent and cohesive manner. Different parts of their sentences pull in different directions, there being no inner unity of ideas in the sentence. Some of the basic ideas in certain sentences are missing with the result that those sentences turn out to be mere unorganized piles of unconnected words and phrases. The following are some of the actual examples of such incohesive and incoherent writings.1

There are some features or rules which ruled out by the Shakespeare in his plays. Such as these in Macbeth (do not know) it is new phrase and it enriched the language by Shakespeare. And also (know not) the meaning is you don't know. He made it in exchange position to make good sound and rhyme for that sentences.

The main characterize in grammatical changes during the Middle Period is The Great Vowel. It's the determined of pronunciation of long vowel. The rising vowels are /a:/, /u:/. Sometimes the vowel become diphthongs vowel like /ei/. And some of this vowel is pulled and some of them is pushed.

The only way in which such learners of English can improve the thematic organization of their writings is to keep reading more and more good samples of organized writings and to assimilate and absorb from those organized writings the capability for structuring and organizing their ideas efficiently. Only an intensive and sustained act of getting to grips with lots and lots of organized texts can ever lead to the desired output. As Burke once said, “Examples are the best school of mankind; they will learn at no other.”

Cohesiveness and coherence can be imbibed by assimilative exposure to non-literary texts as well because non-literary texts, good texts in legal and commercial writings, for example, are also highly organized in their own way. But because of their emotive and imaginative content readers can spontaneously get more involved in reading literary texts than they ever can in the case of non-literary texts. The input of literary texts can, therefore, give quicker and more lasting results.
It may be pointed out here that cohesiveness and coherence are gradable concepts. Texts are in other words not just coherent or incoherent; they represent different degrees of coherence. The ability to write cohesively and coherently gets more and more energized as one reads more and more. Besides, literature at its best achieves a much higher degree and a much higher quality of coherence than non-literary texts and so, from the point of cohesiveness and coherence, an advanced learner, too, has a great deal to learn from literary texts. In one of his prose writings, Ezra Pound (1928) emphasized that one of the functions of literature was to impart to the readers “the clarity and vigor of any and every thought and opinion the health of the very matter of thought itself.” Cohesiveness and coherence are a pre-requisite for the clarity and vigor of our thought; and an intensive and sustained engagement with the text is the surest device for an increasing acquisition of cohesiveness and coherence.

(3) Many people wrongly think that excellence in the use of language can be achieved by mastering the mechanics of grammar. The more you know grammar, they think, the better your English will be. In order that we can clearly understand the role and the limitations of grammar, it would be useful to have a clear idea of what it really means to be able to use language. As in any other field of life, achievement in language use can mean the achievement of (i) faulty mediocrity, (ii) faultless mediocrity (iii) faulty brilliance or (iv) faultless brilliance. Grammar can lead us from faulty mediocrity to faultless mediocrity or it can lead us from faulty brilliance to faultless brilliance. But all that it can help us to achieve is correctness or faultlessness in the use of language. Faultlessness is necessary but not enough. What really gets us genuine distinction in life is sparkling brilliance in the use of language. What we should really be proud of is not mere correctness in the use of our language but elegance, subtlety, and overpowering vitality in its use. This overpowering vitality in the use of English in our case, and in the use of language in general, is characteristic only of literature and an intensive and sustained exposure to great literature is the only way in which that vitality can be acquired. One has to keep diving deep into the vast oceanic depths of great literature before one can really have a magical command of the mechanics of expression characterized by overpowering vitality. Literature, therefore, has a big role to play in the language learning process. Grammar can help to build and strengthen the skeleton. The skeleton is a very , very important part of our organism. It is the skeleton that holds our body straight and keeps it in its proper shape. But imagine a man and more so a woman who is just a skeleton. He or she would only look like a horrifying ghost. The beauty, the glow and the attractiveness of one's personality comes out of the healthy muscles surrounding the skeleton and the red blood flowing incessantly through the veins and the arteries. Similarly, the energy and the vitality in the use of one's language arises out of a skillful use of rhetorical devices and in particular, a timely and spontaneous use of many of those subtle and elegant shades of beauty and elegance in the use of language which can be felt but which do not yet have a definite name.

(4) But can literature in no way strengthen the skeleton of our language use? Can we say that grammar alone can build and strengthen the skeleton of language and that literature can only do the beautification of that skeleton built and strengthened by grammar? In my view, literature functions like some of those mega nutrients which not only strengthen our muscles and enhance and energize the life-giving constituents of our blood but also vitalize our bones.
Grammar teaches us language and it also teaches us about language. When reading literature we do in a sense learn the language intuitively though not explicitly as we do in the case of grammar. In grammar the patterns and structures of a language are learned through the process of explicit and rational explanations; during the reading of literature they are learnt because of intuitive assimilation. In grammar the learner generally proceeds from rules to examples; during his reading of literature he intuitively deduces rules from examples. When we read an enjoyable literary text, unconsciously we absorb and assimilate all the grammatical constructions used in that text. In his grammar lessons, the learner tries to master the rules; during his reading of literature he develops a feel for the language. At the end of a grammar lesson the learner can enumerate the rules that he has learnt, if any at all. At the end of his literature reading session, a reader is hardly aware of the fact that a large number of complex rules have sunk deep into his consciousness and have formed, in an inexplicable manner, an integral part of his mastery of the language. An involved reader of literature is like a beautiful lotus flower during the early hours of the morning that never realizes how the dewdrops throughout the night nurtured it and made it possible for the bud to unfold itself into a flower of ravishing beauty.
To be continued