Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Miss Self-Important writes:
It's not just internal pressure though or a barrier to entry--people outside academia expect you to know the languages of your field b/c these serve as a concrete yardstick of knowing something. Recall the main character in White Noise who is a professor--nay, progenitor--of "Hitler Studies" but doesn't know any German except the word "Hitler." This is a joke we can all appreciate.

You also subscribe to this view when you say that writing your dissertation on Plato requires Greek, Derrida French, etc. You have to have some advanced expertise. What if your dissertation is on Plato AND Derrida? Then Greek and French? What if it's on international Atlantic trade in the 18th Century--French, Spanish, and Dutch? What about Renaissance poetry--Italian, French, Latin, and Greek? See how this quickly gets complicated. Moreover, your dissertation is not the only thing you're preparing for in grad school; you have to be qualified to teach the broader field in which your dissertation topic is located. So, might want to throw German in there as well.

Right, so PhDs should learn to read every possible language from Aramaic to Zulu?

Seriously though, it just seems unreasonable and ultimately a waste of time to read every language you might reasonably encounter in your work. Odds are if you are writing a dissertation on Atlantic Trade, then you would limit your study to documents in one or two languages and then rely upon translations for the rest. You just cannot get enough skill in a language in a year to make it worthwhile.


Miss Self-Important said...

Ok, so which would you pick and how would you defend it against claims that the others are actually "more relevant"? To be fair, most history programs expect 2-3 languages for admission, at least on paper, but I have some personal experience that demonstrates a lack of real policing of this requirement.

Having never learned any foreign language well enough to grasp its benefits, I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other on the utility of demanding many languages of academics. All the texts I've ever needed have been translated. But I do know that my hypothetical future children will be learning academically useful foreign languages (like, not Russian) very early...you know, just in case.

Withywindle said...

Will your hypothetical future children have hypothetically dorky glasses? Will they be self-important, or will they be trained to know that you are important? Will they be allowed to blog before or after puberty? These are decisions that must be made ASAP. Miss FLG, for example, has already taken one field trip to Vegas without FLG knowing about it until right now.

Withwyindle said...

Also: mastery of a foreign language is a proxy for intelligence and educational preparation.

Miss Self-Important said...

Withywindle, do you think I have NOT thought of these things yet? Do you know what my grad school project IS? Here are the answers, in order:
1. Yes, both of us are near-sighted, so the child will probably inherit this, and glasses are morally superior to contacts. We have not decided about metal vs. plastic frames yet because we currently sport competing looks.
2. Both, as per Locke's (but not Rousseau's) recommendations.
3. Never, I will try to avoid the child-rearing errors that led to my own pubertal urge to blog.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.