The Importance of “English” as a Discipline

We’re living through a very strange time, and now, more than ever, people are starting to consider the importance of technology, and things like “English” as a discipline, and literature. It was never something we really contemplated before. It was so easily accessible that we just accepted it for what it was. Now, however, it seems that everyone is starting to realize how important these things are for communication. If we did not have them, it would make it infinitely harder to get in touch with one another during these trying times. This is why I’m very glad I took this particular class. If I’m honest, I actually only enrolled in this course because it was the only thing available, but I was pleasantly surprised with how everything turned out.

To be honest, before we began distance learning, it was hard for me to see how anything we were learning in this course related to English at all. It seemed kind of silly to me. I thought coding had more to do with math and, though I realized technology could be beneficial when it came to things like reading and writing, I did not think it was a necessary tool to have. But now I can not stop thinking about how important coding and technology actually are to English and literature. It has made things easily accessible, as well as more widespread. Technology’s effect on the way we communicate has changed the English language forever. Not only has the internet changed the way we speak and share information, but it has changed the way we write, especially via email and text message. This is why I see literature and reading a bit differently after taking this particular course.

Though it has been difficult under our particular circumstances, I actually feel like I have managed to learn a lot in this class. The online modules have been really helpful, and though it sometimes feels impossible for me to focus on what I am doing, the journal entries that we have been posting to GitHub have been keeping me somewhat organized. It has been really fun using Visual Studio Code because seeing the end result of what you choose to code is always really neat. When I first learned how to insert pictures in code, change font styles, and switch up the font colors, I thought it was incredible. I felt so accomplished! I also enjoyed learning how to use Voyant Tools and TimelineJS. I am a very visual person, so seeing the pictures I managed to upload to my timelines was really exciting for me. In addition, Reading Thoreau was really insightful, and James Gleick’s “The Information” had a lot of interesting information about communication. The most difficult thing for me to follow along with was working in the Command Prompt, but it was not impossible. If I read through the modules carefully, I managed to succeed (most of the time). I never expected that one day I would learn anything about coding, and I am actually really proud of myself for being able to follow along with most of what we learned in this course.

One thing I learned about while learning online in this class was fluidity and fluid texts. I have never actually taken the time to think about how all literary texts are basically fluid. I mean, I have always known that works of literature go through revisions, and drafts and adaptations obviously exist, but I did not know that they were considered ‘fluid texts’. And like I said in one of the topics – this fluidity has a massive impact on each work of literature, so now, every time I sit down to read something, I think about what the work I am reading has gone through – I think about how it has shifted and changed according to the cultural situation. It is just little things like this that this class has altered for me. I am more familiar with my computer, and I understand how important technology is when it comes to “English” as a discipline.

Communication and Shared Experience

According to James Gleick, in the late 1500’s, “Barely five million people on earth spoke English (a rough estimate; no one tried to count the population of England, Scotland or Ireland until 1801). Barely a million of those could write.” However, he also mentions that over the course of four centuries, the number of English speakers jumped to one billion people. This is partly due to the creation of the dictionary.

The creation of the dictionary is key in understanding the evolution of communication and shared experience over time. While the dictionary is a convenient place to look up words and definitions, it is also an irreplaceable part of English culture. This is because the dictionary documents the continuing development of our society and provides an important record of the evolution of the English language. 

In chapter three of “The Information”, James Gleick tells the story of how Robert Cawdrey wrote his Table Alphabeticall, the first monolingual dictionary in English. Cawdrey knew that his typical reader, a book-buying Englishman, could live a lifetime without encountering a set of data ordered alphabetically because more sensible ways of ordering words came first. For instance, the Chinese arranged the two thousand entries in their dictionary by meaning, and Egyptians and Arabians had word lists organized on philosophical or educational principles. These were thought provoking, creative means of organization. However, Cawdrey wanted to create a list that was more mechanical, effective, and automatic. 

Many years later, Thomas Blount wrote a dictionary containing more than eleven thousand words. His definitions were much more elaborate than Cawdrey’s, and he even provided information about the origins of each word. Sadly enough though, he didn’t pay homage to Cawdrey and his work. This is unfortunate, because despite the fact that it was never deemed a particularly useful work, if Cawdrey had not decided to compile two thousand words and list them in his Table Alphabeticall, it is possible that Blount wouldn’t have written his dictionary.

The first editors of the Oxford English Dictionary did mention Cawdrey in regards to their work. These editors called him ‘the original acorn’ from which their oak had grown. And boy, did their oak grow. After combing through several works of classic literature, the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary managed to include nearly four hundred thousand words and phrases in ten volumes. This was an incredible feat, especially considering this dictionary was first published in 1928 – during a time when they lived without all of the helpful technology we have now.

Dictionaries continue to expand because language is always changing. No dictionary is ever really complete, and this includes the new, modernized versions of dictionaries that we access digitally. In 1989, with some help from a complicated software, Oxford editors managed to add five thousand new words to their popular reference work, both digitally and in print. Today the Oxford English Dictionary is still under alteration. 

By informing readers on the history of the English dictionary, Gleick is insinuating that as dictionaries are written and expanded upon, humans only become more interested in words, and this is what leads to more English speaking individuals.

When the number of English speaking individuals increases, numerous connections can be formed within our society, which only results in an increase in communication and shared experiences. As we know, communication and shared experience are important when discussing the humanities.