Why do some doctorates have foreign language requirements?

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by AV8R, May 7, 2013.

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  1. AV8R

    AV8R Active Member

    I was recently checking out a PhD program in English (no, not for me) and I noticed that the school offering the program requires four semesters of a foreign language as a prerequisite. My reaction was (and still is) ... why? What's the point? It's an English degree.

    I don't get it. Why do some doctorates have this requirement, even when the degree has nothing to do with foreign languages? Most people just take two semesters of a foreign language in their undergrad degree programs (if it's even required) and move on.
     
  2. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    The idea is that you can conduct doctoral research more thoroughly if you're available to use sources that are written in other widely-used languages of scholarship. Also, it used to be that monolingual people weren't usually considered very well educated, and in many countries that's still the case.
     
  3. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    Both of those points are true. Another point, for English specifically, is that most US English speakers have little understanding of the rules of English grammar, syntax, parts of speech, etc., because this material has been increasingly de-emphasized in school and college English classes. The best way to learn this stuff today is by studying a second language. This approach also helps to the student to appreciate how unusual English is, since it has very little inflection compared to other Indo-European languages.
     
  4. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    And also appreciate that they learned an exception-riddled language like English in infancy when it's still easy!
     
  5. GeeBee

    GeeBee Member

    “Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.”
    -- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    (but he said it in German)
     
  6. DanielC

    DanielC New Member

    Poems like Trenité's "The Chaos" really highlight how English pronunciation can be even challenging to native speakers.
     
  7. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    If you are a native speaker of a given language (whether it is English, French, Chinese, etc), there are a lot of things about the language that you never think about or question. You just accept them as the way that language is naturally supposed to work.

    But in reality, languages can work in many different ways. If you step outside of your native language, and learn a second language that does things differently, then it changes your perspective on your first language.

    It's like leaving your hometown to go to college, or to join the military. You may go back to your hometown eventually, but if you do, you'll have a different (and broader) perspective than someone who never left.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2013
  8. Johann

    Johann Well-Known Member

    Let's not forget that the input of quite a few languages resulted in what's now called English. Last I heard, 65% of the vocab. is Latin-derived, so Latin helps a lot! Another thing I can tell you about Latin (and I took it for several years) is this: if you know Latin Grammar - you know grammar, period. Learning grammar thoroughly helped me in learning other languages - except Chinese, which is beautiful, but a study unto itself. It certainly did me no harm in English, either.

    Learning Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon and French - particularly old French - will polish one's English mightily! If that can't be managed, try modern French and modern German and you'll at least have some appreciation for the roots from which English sprang. Oh yes - don't forget Italian. Latin gave it to us and Geoffrey Chaucer spoke Italian well; he worked in Italy and used Italian rhythms in the fine English work he left us. :smile:

    BTW - when I first set foot on a University campus 50-odd years ago, that school would not graduate anyone who did not have 6 credits in a foreign language. Engineers, physicists etc. usually took Scientific Russian or Scientific German, back then. :smile:

    Johann
     
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  9. Johann

    Johann Well-Known Member

    I've had a few English and writing teachers. Far and away, the best of them were those who knew how English "went together." Several were well-versed in all of Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon and French. One knew those, English and nine other languages. I think to teach English - writing or literature - at a high level, all of these languages are beneficial -- in some cases, indispensable. Just my take.

    An English teacher who does not know the various components of his/her language, is rather like a preacher without knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. Without this background, I feel that such a person's teachings could be suspect, or even pernicious.

    ...and just how does one develop even a partial understanding of, say, James Joyce or Ezra Pound without other languages? :smile:

    Johann
     
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  10. Ted Heiks

    Ted Heiks Moderator and Distinguished Senior Member Staff Member

    Why do some doctorates have foreign language requirements? Because the professors who teach in these doctoral programs had to suffer through French and German in their doctoral programs.
     
  11. Johann

    Johann Well-Known Member

    And rightly so! Who said higher education was easy? :jester:

    Johann
     
  12. Johann

    Johann Well-Known Member

    Or Anthony Burgess - A Clockwork Orange? Well, I guess there's now a dictionary of sorts:

    Appendix:A Clockwork Orange - Wiktionary

    Back in 1962, when it was published - there wasn't. As I remember, (I was 19) one sorta had to learn a little Russian and "grok" the Burgess text as best one could. More fun than a basket of KGB memos! :smile:

    Johann
     
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  13. Johann

    Johann Well-Known Member

    Canada, where I live, is one such country -- or pretends to be, at any rate. :smile: And I'll tell you a dirty little secret -- there are people here who have gone to school for eight or nine languages, who aren't very well-educated at all! Heck, I are one of 'em. :jester:

    Johann
     
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  14. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    I learned an English grammar rule in a Spanish class. In all of the honors and pre-AP English courses I had taken, I was never exposed to it. It's also amazing how so many Americans are unaware of the fact that English is a Germanic language. They think its roots are in Latin. Latin and Greek were used to form new words that were needed, especially in science. This also happened in other Germanic languages. It is true that a lot of our everyday words are now Latin-based, but many of them are unnecessary duplicates of the Germanic-based words English already had.

    There are people who are actually dedicated to speaking only "pure" English.
    Linguistic purism in English - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
     
  15. Johann

    Johann Well-Known Member

    What you say is true, Sanantone. However, English did get a b-i-g dose of Latin-originated non-scientific words in the centuries following the Norman Conquest. 150 years before, these Normans (North Men) had been Vikings - enterprising, brawling Scandinavians, who were rewarded with large land grants by French kings, for their protection services against other invaders. They quickly adopted French customs and the French language, formed in the preceding few centuries by fusion of late Latin and - again - Germanic languages.

    I don't think people of Norman origin ever formed more than 5% of the English population, but as rulers, their influence was huge - on the language and everything else. By whatever means, well over 60% of English vocabulary is Latin-based. Admittedly, the general construction of the language is certainly unlike Latin, though.

    Although English (even its name) is certainly Germanic in origin, as you say, present-day German is far more highly-inflected that English. Many features of German (3 genders - objects not necessarily neuter, many verb-endings by person and number, more cases and case-endings for nouns, etc.) are familiar constructions to those who have learned Latin. Certainly, in grammar, present-day German resembles Latin more than English. Not so the vocabulary, of course.

    I'm not surprised to hear you learned a grammar rule that works for English in your Spanish class. It's great to compare, sometimes. I had several years of French, long before I took an Italian class and I was pleased to find that when I wasn't sure of
    a grammar rule, usually a French rule would work in Italian.

    Thanks for your very interesting post. :smile:

    Johann
     
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  16. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    One could argue that such duplication is "unnecessary". On the other hand, it provides English with an unusually rich vocabulary, and the duplicates often have slightly different shades of meaning.

    Supposedly, English speakers tend to perceive words of Germanic origin as more informal and straightforward, while words of French origin tend to be perceived as more formal and mannered. One example that I remember hearing about is "warm welcome" (= German "warme willkommen") vs. "cordial reception" (= French "reception cordial").

    In theory, you could argue that a "warm welcome" and a "cordial reception" mean exactly the same thing. But in practice, most English speakers would probably use "warm welcome" for informal contexts (like meeting an old friend) and "cordial reception" for formal contexts (like being introduced to the Pope).
     
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  17. Johann

    Johann Well-Known Member

    To put that more clearly, I meant:

    Present-day German's grammar system resembles Latin grammar in several ways. The English grammar system is materially different from the German one - less rigorous or complex, in certain ways. German, though it has absorbed Latin-based words from science, scholarship and foreign borrowings, does not have nearly the same percentage of words of Latin origin that English does.

    Sorry - hope that's clearer.

    Johann
     
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  18. Johann

    Johann Well-Known Member

    Exactly, CalDog. Instructive and accurate post - all of it. Well-said! :smile:

    Johann
     
  19. Johann

    Johann Well-Known Member

    From the wiki (cited above by sanantone) on Pure English:

    ...the more extreme form (of "pure English" advocacy) has been and continues to be a fringe movement.

    OK, just so long as they stay on the fringe! :smile: Interesting to note, though, that the movement has been around since not long after the Norman conquest precipitated the controversy.

    Johann
     
  20. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    Yes, as I said, there are everyday English words that are Latin-based, but most of them are duplicates.

    Most Americans would not use "cordial reception" these days. I wouldn't be surprised if half of Americans don't even know what cordial means. In the past, when the average American had a broader vocabulary, I wouldn't be surprised if certain words and phrases were still mostly used by the upper class.

    Some people might appreciate English's rich vocabulary, but it also makes it difficult for non-native speakers to learn. It also seems that it's difficult for many native speakers to learn too. Even the average British person probably doesn't even use half of the words in the English language.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 9, 2013

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