Tuesday, January 09, 2007


As the new semester has begun I've now met with all my professors and learned what they have to offer. First I met with my advisor/major-professor who will help me shape a literature review for phonology. This is expressly intended to serve my studies within my field. My English language history class met today and I'm eager to do all possible learning guided by an excellent professor. It will be a philological focus, but that's fine. The class is usually taught by my advisor who focuses more on linguistics, but I expect my reach will not in this case exceed my grasp. I'm also enrolled in a Middle English Literature class, focusing on works other than Chaucer. This is the difficult part.

I took the advice of a venerable scholar who directed me through Beowulf and insisted it would be wise to continue through to the works that follow nigh. I'm studying the language, should I not study it's literature? It made sense to me. And I've always been one to argue for both great breadth and depth in education. But now I find myself focusing more on my education's relevance value. It's the question we asked our teachers when we were drippy-nosed kids: When will I ever use this? And to that question I immediately hear a very simple answer that shuts me up (for a while): "That's up to you."

And if it's a question about whether I'm up to the challenge, I of course want to prove that yes, I am. But I then change the framing of the challenge. It assumes that I care about this specific form of the challenge. Or that this class is the only way to meet it.

I have done my distribution. At one point it was called elementary education. I met and learned about several subjects with equal focus (with the exception of art which only got attention once a week). Then in middle school some of those classes merged (reading, phonics, writing, spelling > "English") some (Social Studies) split (Geography, history). This splitting and merging continued throughout high school and continues today. I've done well at each point and now I find that my question of "when am I going to use this" is probably better framed as a question of the continuity of investment. My success in a sufficiently broad education has afforded me (by a contract of sorts) the opportunity to choose narrowing paths and to plunge deeper in chosen areas.

And because I have promised to pursue uncommon fruit I have been trusted to change my wide embrace to a firm grip. At this point my grip should procure all things tiny within the language. I've zoomed in on one of the smallest units of language, the phoneme. Haven't I earned the right to tend the neglected details?


  1. So you're saying you don't want to take the ME lit class?

  2. It's not that simple. I would enjoy the class. I'm very interested in Middle English language and literature.

    My issue is with the necessity of the class and the space it takes in my studies. I could use that time to pursue my major and secondary interests further.

    In fact if I don't stay in the ME lit class I'll be able to push my Sound Change in English directed readings further. Then next year while I'm working on my prelim papers I'll take some class (whatever I can find) on dialectology or phonetics.

    I should use all available energy to push my major area as far as possible.


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