MLA Division of Linguistic Approaches to Literature

2008 Conference Sessions

Session 521: From Philology to Literary Linguistics: Crossfertilizations

Monday, 29 December, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., San Francisco Marriott
Presiding: Claiborne Rice, Univ. of Louisiana, Lafayette

1. Gawain and Modern Phonology: The Rhythms of English Poetry
Kristin Lynn Cole, Univ. Texas, Austin
Abstract: Confirmation that English is a stress-timed language, as first proposed by Pike (1946) and Abercrombie (1965) and recently confirmed by Cummins and Port (1996, 1998) and Grabe and Low (2002), helps resolve two long-standing metrical conundrums found in the microcosm of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: how can the alliterative long line be metrical when there is no set pattern for either the a-verse or b-verse? how can the bobs and wheels admit a significant number of two-syllable dips and still maintain an iambic feel?  The phonological phenomenon of stress-timing, through which English speeds up across unstressed syllables and slows down to accommodate stressed syllables, contrasts with French and Italian, which are syllable-timed languages with evenly spaced syllabic alternation and very little vowel reduction.  The alliterative long line organizes English’s inherent stress-timing, much as the French and Italian decasyllable, which Chaucer used to develop iambic pentameter, deploys Romance syllable-timing.  Moreover, the theory that English is a stress-timed language shows how English poetry from Gawain’s bobs and wheels to Robert Frost’s “loose iambs” can accommodate two-syllable dips between stresses and remain metrical.  This last meter, what Tarlinskaja (1993) has called the dolnik, has existed in English poetry since medieval poets first started emulating the Continental style imported by the Normans.

2. Francis Junius and John Milton: Linguistics and Literature Intersect
Hannah Crawforth, Princeton Univ.
Abstract: This paper considers the work of the seventeenth-century philologist, Francis Junius (1591-1677). In the Preface to his Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson acknowledges a considerable debt to Junius, praising him as one who ‘excelled in extent of learning.’ At the age of fifty-five, Junius had begun to study several Teutonic languages, amongst them Old English, with the aim of discovering the origins of Dutch. Bodleian MSS Junius 2 and 3 document his attempts to compile a multilingual dictionary of five ‘old Northern Languages,’ as William Nicolson called them in 1696. His efforts long predate the appearance of such a work in print, and anticipate later work in comparative linguistics.

Junius is perhaps best known for his editions of certain Old English manuscripts, amongst them vernacular versions of Genesis and Exodus, and an early text of Caedmon’s Hymn. I examine the possibility that John Milton might have been familiar with these works, an idea long-since mooted, but which has not received the critical attention it deserves. Milton’s commonplace book shows his interest England’s Anglo-Saxon past containing entries on the topic of pre-Conquest England from works by Bede, Gildas, William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon, Ralph Holinshed, John Stow, John Speed, William Lambard, and Thomas Smith. Elsewhere, he notes possible subjects for 33 tragedies based on early English history, and compares the Saxon king Alfred’s attacks on the Danes as ‘wel like those of Ulysses’. Milton’s History of Britain (1670) attests further to his interest in Anglo-Saxon England, particularly insofar as it offers historical precedent he can utilize in support of his own political views.  My paper explores the impact of early Anglo-Saxon studies and the beginnings of etymological study of the English vernacular upon the poet who once considered King Alfred as a suitable subject for a national epic.

Milton is interested in the fact that King Alfred ‘turn’d the old laws into English,’ comparing these vernacular statutes to the ‘Norman gibbrish’ of his own day. As Ruth Mohl pointed out in her 1969 study, Milton seems to connect the issue of the rightness of the law to that of linguistic clarity; in the early Elegia Prima to Diodati, he had described a lawyer who “thunders out in an uncouth court outlandish words.” I take Mohl’s insight as a point of departure from which to explore the relationship between institutions of Anglo-Saxon origin and language of Old English derivation in Milton’s writing. Lambard’s work will be particularly important here in tracing Milton’s understanding of the lexical history of such words. Archeion reveals the Saxon roots of important political terms, including ‘meeting’ (from the verb gemettan, 'to meet', and the Micel-Gemot, the earliest form of parliament in England) and ‘rout’ (from the Old English rot, a band of men).

Junius’s influence upon Milton (who may have introduced the poet to an Old English version of the Creation story in Latin translation) is considered here, along with that of Saxon scholar Abraham Wheelock, as I ask how Milton’s evident awareness of the political importance of Anglo-Saxon institutions comes to bear upon his language – and how these literary and linguistic interests intersect in his work.

3. Deviation and Order: Toward a Linguistic Understanding of Literariness in the Writings of John Stuart Mill
Paul Yeoh, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
Abstract: The Victorian period was an exciting and important moment in the history of linguistics in Britain, when philologists like Max Müller and Richard Trench did much to popularize the “Science of Language”, establishing the foundations for the linguistic study of literature. But what about Victorian literary theorists? (How) did they draw on the intellectual energy generated around language in their thinking about literature? While current criticism usually discusses Victorian literary theory primarily in terms of its sociocultural concerns – and often deems it “conservative” – my paper re-examines J. S. Mill’s literary writings to argue that at least some branches of the period’s literary theorizing were very much engaged with its philological interests, and produced theories of literature which emphasized the workings of linguistic form. Victorian literary theory, then, did important work to make literariness available to linguistic analysis, contributing significantly to the development of contemporary literary linguistics.

Students of Mill’s literary thinking have tended to focus on either the expressive or social function of literature in his theory – often at the expense of his ideas about form. Close reading of Mill’s Autobiography and critical essays reveals, however, his considerable interest in literary form and its rhetorical possibilities. Mill’s emphasis on form can be linked, moreover, to his participation in the discourse on “civilization”, a discourse that fueled philological research and gave a prominent role to language in human development. Juxtaposing Mill’s conceptualization of the literary with his ideas about modern civilization, I show how his theory conceives the distinctive features of literary language as a powerful means of counterbalancing the undesirable tendencies of modern discourse practices. The great cultural importance Mill attaches to literature is not, therefore, the result of displaced religiosity or muddled aestheticism, but springs from sophisticated, rigorous thinking about the artfully cultivated qualities of literary language – a concept of literariness which anticipates the notion of “linguistic deviation”, yet also capable of accommodating the harmonizing power of literary form.

Session 427: From Philology to Literary Linguistics: Challenges

Sunday, 28 December, 7:15–8:30 p.m., San Francisco Marriott
Presiding: Craig A. Hamilton, Univ. of Haute Alsace

1. From Discourse Analysis to Historical Pragmatics and Diachronic Narratology
Monika Fludernik, Univ. of Freiburg
Abstract: The paper is meant to illustrate the stimulating impact of linguistics both in its modern (discourse analysis) and philological (historical pragmatics) garb for diachronic narratology. The example I want to focus on is narrative structure, particularly the use of discourse markers and the historical present tense, in natural narrative (everyday conversational narratives) and in early English narrative texts (1250-1750). The emphasis will not be on laying out the facts primarily (these I have dealt with extensively in published work and am refining in work in progress), but on discussing the theoretical and methodological challenges of combining a philological toolkit with the terminology and methodology of modern linguistics in various subdisciplines. In particular, I will be talking about the difficult borderline between stylistics and rule-governed syntactic analysis. I will also focus on the form-function relations and on the problem of diachronic development and the kind of questions that an emphasis on change give rise to. These latter include, for instance, the problem of restructuring of a system; the issue of refunctionalizing elements that had a specific place within one system at point A into elements that serve a quite different function within a new pattern; or the conundrum of performance within a historical framework.

2. Literary Linguistics and Philology: Translation as a Point of Entry to the Poetics of Mind
Michael E. Huffmaster, Univ. of California, Berkeley
Abstract: In 2007 the MLA published the report of its Ad Hoc Committee on Foreign Languages, titled “Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World,” calling for a reconceptualization of language study in the globalized world of the twenty-first century. The new goal of language study the report articulates is transcultural and translingual competence. Realizing that goal, the report recognizes, will require comprehensive reform of the two-tiered language-literature structure that defines both the curriculum and the governance of most language departments in the U.S. today.

In this paper, I argue that the field of literary linguistics is uniquely poised to play a leading role in the transformation of language study as envisioned in the MLA report. Its effectiveness in being able to do so will benefit, I maintain, from a reassessment of its roots in philology, broadly conceived. In contemporary American English usage the term philology connotes primarily historical linguistics, while in several major European traditions its various cognates refer more broadly to the study of a language together with its literature and the cultural and historical contexts that inform them. It is this broader notion of philology that the field of literary linguistics is heir to, and precisely such a multifaceted, all-encompassing approach to language study is what the MLA report calls for.

This paper seeks to underscore the connections between philology and literary linguistics and to demonstrate the relevance of such connections for language study today by taking two tacks, one theoretical-historical, the other methodological-pedagogical. First, I draw parallels between the thought of one of the fathers of philology, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and some of the key insights in one particular thread of modern literary linguistics, cognitive poetics. I then show how translation, a foundational methodology in philology, can be reframed in light of cognitive poetics and exploited in contemporary language studies to serve the goal of transcultural and translingual competence.

3. Crossing the Field: Using Bourdieu to Bridge Linguistics and Culture Studies
Chantelle Warner, Univ. of Arizona
Abstract: In the MLA report on foreign languages released in 2007, the authors emphasize the importance of linguistic awareness in the development of cultural understanding and call for an integrative approach to the study of language in culture within language departments (MLA Ad Hoc Committee on Foreign Languages, "Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World." May 2007. 5 March 2008. <>). Michael Holquist similarly notes a certain lack of linguistic engagement in the contemporary American humanities in his 2002 article “Why We Should Remember Philology” (Profession (2002): 72-79) and suggests that the study of language and linguistic difference is key to understanding other cultures. Both of these recent calls encourage literary scholars to wed the the study of literature as a manifestation of larger social and historical movements with more discrete textual analysis; however, since the split in the 1980s between literary and linguistic study in English and foreign language departments of American universities, these two areas have emerged as relatively separate disciplines, each with its own jargon, reading list, academic journals, professional association, favored theories, and sometimes seemingly incompatible modes of analysis.

In this paper I argue that the practice theory proposed by social theorist Pierre Bourdieu and further developed by linguistic anthropologists such as William Hanks might serve as a productive tool for understanding the interconnections between linguistic and other cultural practices in the study of literature, and consequently can be used as a theoretical bridge between cultural studies and literary linguistic approaches. Through the analysis of a contemporary German literary scandal, I demonstrate how the Bourdieu inspired model of linguistic practice encourages the conceptualization of literature as forms in practice, structured through their participation in fields of social activity.

Session 736: Linguistics and Literature: Marriage of Like Minds or Shotgun Wedding?

Tuesday, 30 December, 8:30–9:45 a.m., San Francisco Marriott
Claiborne Rice, Univ. of Louisiana, Lafayette

1. Codfish in Don Quixote or What’s a Nice Basque Like You Doing in a Novel Like This?
Anthony J. Cárdenas-Rotunno, Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque
Abstract: When so simple a question as "¿Cómo te/os/se/se  llamas/llamáis/llama/llaman?" are all rendered into English with a "What’s your name?"; and not "She/he/they who do not cry do not suck," one has to wonder what madness must possess an individual to undertake translating the Cervantine masterpiece sometimes simply referred to as the Quijote.  A quick follow up question might be what madness might possess anyone to even try to examine this first madness in any way that will satisfy any number of readers especially when it means how one language is rendered into another, in this study Spanish into English, and one might emphasize Cervantine Spanish, not just Spanish?  Even a dictionary as humble as Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, which offers for language "the words, their pronunciation and the methods of combining them used and understood by a considerable community" (474), makes clear the daunting nature of such a comparative enterprise.

Translated into more than 60 different languages, its first translation into English appeared three years before the second part was published in 1615, a translation by Thomas Shelton, published in 1612, and by which time it has already been translated into French, German, and Italian as well.  In the four centuries since its publication it has appeared in English dress twelve times in addition to Shelton’s version.

In 1985, Kitty M. van Leuven-Zwart published an article which began with a confession that, having read the Quixote as a youngster, she found it rather bland. Subsequently, once she had acquired the Spanish language skills, she read it in the original and found it endearing.  She returned to her original Dutch translation to find it was still bland, prompting her to write her article. ("The Methodology of Translation Description and its Relevance for the Practice of Translation."  Babel
31.2 (1985): 77-85.)

Thus, what this study proposes is the examination of two short pieces in the Quixote - the episode of the terms employed for codfish in chapter 2, and the Basque’s macaronic Spanish in chapter 4 -  to see how the linguistic humor they present has been preserved or not when placed into English in the thirteen translations into
English over the last four centuries.  Of course, in the broadest of terms, the ways in which their rendering is affected by British versus American English too will be taken into account as will changing translation criteria over the centuries.

2. A Gentleman’s Goloss: Register Change, Performance and Entitlement To Irony in A Clockwork Orange
Liberty Kohn, Univ. of Louisiana, Lafayette
Abstract: This paper utilizes sociolinguistic register to examine both the use of Alex and his droogs' teen slang, NADSAT, and Alex's mastery of standard high style English. Register, which examines how language is used, not its users, allows for a stylistic analysis of grammatical and vocabulary performance based in mastery of sociolinguistic codes. In the novel, mastery of register, when spoken in its correct social environment, proves repeatedly to provide power, many times in the form of irony. This paper provides two new insights into the teen antilanguage novel. First, examining the three basic registers in Clockwork Orange, NADSAT/teen antilanguage, standard English, and the register of correctional officers, reveals that the submission to or holding of power is reinforced through the superior or inferior grammar and lexical performances of characters.  This analysis leads to my second insight. Characters who stylistically perform the current social setting's register best are the only people entitled to the use of irony, sarcasm, and mockery. Scenes suggesting this claim include Alex's superior NADSAT exchanges with his droogs, his inferior exchanges with his correction officer, and his inferior performance with older gang members while in jail. In each situation, only the appropriate syntax and lexicon aid social agency, and only those who perform these register traits superiorly are entitled to irony.

3. Fictionalizing the Reader and Ethnolinguistic Studies of Membership Analysis in Conversation
Mark Wekander, Univ. of Puerto Rico
Abstract: This paper will look at the similarities between the work of the sociolinguist and ethnographer Harvey Sacks, especially his work on the process of membership analysis in conversation, and that of Walter Ong, focusing primarily on his January 1975 essay in the PMLA, “The Writer’s Audience is Always a Fiction.” Sacks and Ong understand that the process, to use Ong’s term, of fictionalization is performed by the speaker (in a conversation and also a text) and the receiver. Examples from feminist reader response theory and other theories that deal with audience will also be included. The paper, however, questions Ong’s contention that writers learn to fictionalize their audience from other writers, and offer instead the theory that writers also transfer their knowledge of membership analysis and its affect on communication when they fictionalize an audience. While Ong states that the readers fictionalizes themselves, he does not mention where the readers receive the knowledge to do this. He uses an example from Earnest Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms to illustrate how Hemingway’s use of the definite article makes the reader feel like his “boon companion.” Several well-known texts will be used to show how the studies that Sacks did on conversation can reveal more complex and interesting examples of how we are fictionalized in texts and how the readers respond to the text’s misinterpretation of their membership categories.

4. An Uneasy Marriage: Grammar and Rhetoric in Literary Interpretation
Phillip Sipiora, Univ. of South Florida
Abstract: Grammar and rhetoric always have had an uneasy relationship in both the production and interpretation of language. Historically, rhetoric has signified “persuasion,” “figuration,” or, in its broadest definition, “effective communication.” Grammar usually refers to a range of approaches to language that include semantics, syntactics, pragmatics, and morphology. Rhetoric and grammar, particularly their interrelationships, are integral to the interpretation of literature. My presentation will focus on Chapter One of The Sun Also Rises as exemplary of the strategic significance of considering grammar and rhetoric as critical tools in determining meaning. I begin with grammar. The first chapter appears to focus on Robert Cohn as the narrator, Jake Barnes, describes him quite pejoratively. Specifically, Barnes employs ironic, passive constructions to create an image of a submissive pseudo-artist with a noticeable inferiority complex. Cohn is described as “a nice boy, a friendly boy, and very shy, and it made him bitter.” Cohn’s wedding “was arranged” (implying his surrender of control to others), and “he fell among literary people” (suggesting a lack of aggressiveness). Cohn is easily dominated by women: “He had been taken in hand by a lady who hoped to rise with the magazine. She was very forceful and Cohn never had a chance of not being taken in hand.” Cohn knows neither his heart nor his mind: “Also he was never sure that he loved her.” In the event that readers fail to draw the right inferences, we are told: “The lady who had him, her name was Frances.” Thus, grammar plays a determinative role in rendering portraits of Cohn and Barnes, who, by implication, is clearly unlike Cohn. What the one lacks, the other possesses. The role of rhetoric, especially as figuration, is critical to the emerging portraits. Chapter One establishes the master trope of voice: prosopopeia (face, mask, disguise). In diminishing Cohn through verb tenses, voice, mood, and diction, Barnes creates an alter persona (a doppelgänger of sorts) with whom many readers identify. A sympathetic character—Jake himself--is but one residue of his unsympathetic portrait. The ethos of Jake Barnes as narrating persona is well established in Chapter One and shapes the way readers respond to subsequent events and other characters. Even Jake’s analysis of himself must be interpreted in light of the “face” or “mask” he has created through the deft weaving together of grammar and rhetoric in the beginning of the novel. My presentation will examine how the relationship between grammar and rhetoric continues to intersect and influence interpretation.