Working definitions of language and literature
Language and literature are treated together in this guide because they are interdependent and because one of the primary ways of organizing literature is by the language of the literary work under consideration.
The common definitions of language and literature suggest that language has to do with spoken and written words and the systems for their use, while literature comprises the writings that capture ideas. Although literature, it can be said, is dependent on language for its very essence, it is probably wise to look at the definitions of the two fields separately, at least at the very outset. Because language is a requirement of literature, it is considered first.
Language, according to one commonly used reference tool, is “systematic communication by verbal symbols” (The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia (New York: Avon, 1983), pp. 456-66); another dictionary states that language is the “form or style of verbal expression” (The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (New York: Pocket Books, 1974), p. 397); while a third suggests that it is “communication by voice in the distinctively human manner.” (The American College Dictionary (New York: Random House, 1961), p. 685). All of these definitions, spanning nearly thirty years, seem to suggest that language must be spoken, when in fact some languages (notably sign languages and artificial languages) are not vocal yet constitute a means of communication within a community nonetheless. Some might argue that sign language is a substitute for spoken language, while other researchers suggest that it is indeed a language in its own right and not a surrogate at all. The same may be said for computer programming languages that sometimes substitute for foreign-language requirements for admission to academic programs.
Languages are subdivided into families and stocks, based upon the relationships among and derivations of each. Often, but not always, the distribution of languages is of geographic origin: Sino-Tiberian languages, for example, are most often used in a particular Asian region.
Closely involved with the study of language are the fields of linguistics (the scientific study of language) and anthropology (the study of social and cultural constructs and how humans live within them). Language is sometimes claimed as a subdiscipline of both.
To clarify the definitions of language, the reader should consult Edward S. Apir’s Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech (Harcourt, 1921; repr., 1955), a classic cited in later textbooks. Literature is easier to define. Helen Haines, in the now-classic Living with Books (2d ed., Columbia University Press, 1950), offers: “Literature, in familiar library classification and definition, embraces the whole domain of imaginative and creative writing as well as the history, philosophy, and art of literary expression and various distinctive forms in which literary art finds manifestation.” 4 Although Haines later differentiates literature from science, we can assume from her definition that the “distinctive forms” might include writings in the sciences and social sciences, thus constituting the literature of science, social sciences literature, and indeed, the literature of library and information science. These “literatures of…” refer to writings in a special discipline or field of study. Sometimes definitions of literature suggest a value judgment: that the literature has “lasting value” or is of “permanent interest.”
The importance of the literature of various academic disciplines is made apparent in the curricular offerings of graduate schools of library science, information science, and information studies. Courses such as “Social Studies Literature,” “Resources in the Humanities,” and “Sources and Services: Science and Technology” are just a few examples. 5 The role of the literatures, as vehicles for scholarly communication, is stressed in courses entitled “Scientific and Technical Communication” and the like. Few courses in contemporary programs put the whole emphasis on titles; most now include coverage of structures of the literature, the roles of various types of publications, and the unique forms of communications that one finds in the fields under study.
Some are inclined to define literature by the genres, or forms, that are usually included including fiction, poetry, drama, essays and criticism. Asheim included oratory, excluded essays, and suggested that “imaginative writings” in those forms should define the area of literature. The same parameters are observed in this guide.
The issue of value in literature is an important one. While this issue is of interest in all fields of the humanities, the fact that criticism of one work may ultimately become a part of the body of literature itself is nowhere more evident than in the areas of literary scholarship. The critical literature, then, is subject to subsequent criticism as well.
Major divisions of the field
Both of the basic approaches to the division of literature, by language and by form, are usually taken into account in the customary division of the field. The Reader’s Advisor: A Layman’s Guide to the Literature (R. R. Bowker, 1988, v. 2) divides literature by language group and form, covering drama and then other literature.
Division of literature on the basis of the language in which it is written may require some refinements and modifications. For example, the volume of literature written in English is so large that further subdivision is desirable. In this case the term “English literature” is restricted to the output of the United Kingdom that appears in English, or even to the literature of England alone. Separate provision is customarily made for American literature, Australian literature, and so forth. At the other extreme, some of the world’s smallest literatures may be grouped together under a single parent language.
As suggested above, the basic forms of literature are poetry and prose. Prose is normally divided into novels, short stories, and essays. Poetry is normally treated as a single unit, but it can be subdivided by type (lyric poems, epic poems, etc.). The drama, as a literary record of what is to be performed on the stage, has an independent life of its own and may also be considered a major literary form. Modern drama is ordinarily prose, but it may also be verse, or it may consist of both prose and verse.
Another approach to the organization of literature is by historical periods of literary movements. These are often combined with the forms outlined above. J. B. Priestly’s classic Literature and Western Man (Harper, 1960) divides the field by form (poetry, drama, and fiction) and by chronological period. Another detailed approach to the divisions of language and literature is offered by The Modern Humanities Research Association in ABELL: The Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature (MHRA, 1920—1997, v1-72). Many of the divisions and subdivisions can be applied to other than English materials; see the Web pages at http://web.archive.org/web/19990202233305/http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/MHRA/ABELL/ (accessed December 19, 2012).
In addition to the extensive coverage of literature and of individual language literatures in general encyclopaedias (Encyclopedia Americana and Encyclopedia Britannica both have excellent articles), Haines’s Living with Books should be consulted for the classic librarian’s view of the fields of literature, drama, poetry, and fiction. A more recent discussion, also directed to the librarian, is James K. Brachen’s “Literature,” in The Humanities and the Library, edited by Nena Couch and Nancy Allen (American Library Association, 1993, pp. 86-131). The sources in the historical section of Chapter 12 of this guide provide additional background reading on literature.
A recommended source for more current Internet resources is Pam Day’s “Internet Reference Resources in Language and Literature” The Reference Librarian 57 (1997): 153-59.
Use and users of information in language and literature
Of all the disciplines covered in this guide, literature is the one in which scholars have been subjected to greatest scrutiny in terms of their information needs and information-seeking behaviors. Surveys, observational studies, and unobtrusive citation analyses provide an interesting and varied picture of the literature scholar’s work habits and literature use. Because of the number of studies in this area, only those reported after 1980 are listed here; for earlier work, see earlier editions of this guide.
R. Heinzkill looked at English literary work in “Characteristics of References in Selected Scholarly English Literary Journals,” Library Quarterly 50 (July 1980): 352-65. M. Stern’s “Characteristics of the Literature of Literary Scholarship,” College and Research Libraries 44 (July 1983): 199-209, is another frequently cited article. In 1985-1986, three significant studies were published: John Cullars’s “Characteristics of the Monographic Literature of British and American Literary Studies,” College and Research Libraries 46 (November 1985): 511-22; John Budd’s “Characteristics of Written Scholarship in American Literature: A Citation Study,” Library and Information Science Research 8 (April 1986): 189-211; and John Budd’s “A Citation Study of American Literature: Implications for Collections Management” Collection Management 8 (Summer 1986): 49-62.
John Cullars has investigated the characteristics of other special literatures in “Citation Characteristics of French and German Literary Monographs,” Library Quarterly 59 (October 1989): 305-25; “Characteristics of the Monographic Scholarship of Foreign Literary Studies by Native Speakers of English,” College and Research Libraries 49 (March 1988): 157-70; and more recently, “Citation Characteristics of Italian and Spanish Literary Monographs,” Library Quarterly 60 (October 1990): 337-56.
Richard Hopkins’s doctoral dissertation, “The Information Seeking Behaviour of Literary Scholars in Canadian Universities” (University of Toronto, 1988), confirmed and refined findings of some earlier works, and suggests that constraints of time and cost affect information seeking among scholars. The findings are summarized in Hopkins’s “The Information Seeking Behaviour of Literary Scholars,” Canadian Library Journal (April 1989): 113-15.
Broader studies of humanists’ information seeking and use have included faculty members and literary scholars. Two still useful reports are Stephen E. Wiberley, Jr., and William G. Jones, “Patterns of Information Seeking in the Humanities,” College and Research Libraries 51 (May 1990): 231-40.
As we predicted in this guide’s fourth edition, the recent years have yielded many studies of the use of electronic materials: scholars’ attitudes toward electronic sources and texts; and studies of new work methods made possible by networks, document delivery services, and other information technologies. See, for example, “Bibliographies Database Searching by Graduate Students in Language and Literature: Search Strategies, System Interfaces, and Relevance Judgments,” by Debora Shaw (Library and Information Science Research 17 (Fall 1995): 327-45).
Computers in language and literature
The area of computing in language and literature continued to grow in the 1990s. In the fields of language and literature, computational linguistics, language teaching, writing and editing, text analysis, and automated translation are some of the areas for which we have an extensive literature. But perhaps the most prevalent growth has been in the area of Internet and Web resources. Bibliographies such as the Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature are now available on the Web as well as on CD-ROM. Records in the bibliography from 1920 through 1946 are available at http://web.archive.org/web/19991009124947/http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/MHRA/ABELL/OnLine.html (accessed December 14, 1999). MLA International Bibliography, Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts (LLBA) and other important resources are available in a variety of machine-readable formats.
Another important Web resource is Voice of the Shuttle at http://vos.ucsb.edu/index.asp (accessed December 19, 2012). This site includes numerous resources in all areas of the humanities and is particularly strong in the areas of literature and linguistics. A page on “technology of writing” is included. See http://vos.ucsb.edu/browse.asp?id=3 (accessed December 19, 2012) for the English-language pages on the VOS site.
An extensive list of sources and an excellent review of literary texts is still Helen R. Tibbo’s “Information Systems, Services, and Technology for the Humanities,” Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (ARIST) 26 (1991): 287-346. This provides a good starting point and can be updated by many articles, including Perry Willett, “Building Support for a Humanities Electronic Text Center: The Experience at Indiana University,” Library Hi-Tech 16 (1998): 51-56; and Marianne Gaunt, “CETH, Electronic Text Centers, and the Humanities Community,” Library Hi-Tech 16 (1998): 31-42. An earlier article that will provide background on the topic is Anita Lowry “Electronic Texts in English and American Literature,” Library Trends (Spring 1992): 704-23. Here the reader can find information about Shakespeare and other English-language text files and also about basic considerations such as descriptive markup language and encoding. Avra Michelson and Jeff Rothenberg discuss all aspects of electronic text in “Scholarly Communication and Information Technology: Exploring the Impact of Changes in the Research Process on Archives,” American Archivist 55 (Spring 1992): 236-315. The article describes projects such as the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) and American and French Research on the Treasury of the French Language (ARTFL).
Electronic text projects, such as Michael Hart’s Project Gutenberg and the Online Book Initiative, have made the full text of many great literary works available. Dartmouth’s Dante Project provides the full text of The Divine Comedy, along with six centuries of commentary on the work, in searchable form. Other sources of information on the availability of electronic text include The Georgetown University Catalogue of Projects in Electronic Text, The Humanities Computing Yearbook (latest edition), Oxford University Press, and Chadwyck-Healey. The impact of electronic text is covered in Literary Texts in an Electronic Age: Scholarly Implications and Library Services, edited by B. Sutton (Urbana-Champaign: ASLIS, University of Illinois, 1994).
Database searching is also important in the fields of literature and languages. MLA Bibliography (file 71 on Dialog, also available on CD-ROM) covers 1963 to the present and provides access to books and journals on language, literature, and linguistics. LLBA (Linguistics and Language Behaviour Abstracts), produced by Sociological Abstracts, Inc., covers the period 1973 to the present. Included are articles from over 1,000 journals. It is file 36 on Dialog. Other popular databases that literary scholars use include Arts and Humanities Search (produced by the Institute for Scientific Information and available in a variety of formats, including the new Web of Science), and Dissertation Abstracts Online.
The Internet resources related to literature and linguistics are vast and include listservs and electronic journals on many literature genres, writers, and special topics. Search the Web for the particular genres or authors, and access to a wealth of resources will result. A good starting point for links to resources and reviews of them is the Argus Clearinghouse at http://web.archive.org/web/20020408104907/http://www.clearinghouse.net/arthum.html (accessed December 19, 2012).
Finally, scholarly publishing is the subject of John Unsworth’s “Electronic Scholarship or Scholarly Publishing and the Public,” Journal of Scholarly Publishing 28 (October 1996): 3-12.
Major organizations, information centers, and special collections
The oldest, largest, and best known of the organizations that promote the study and teaching of languages in this country is the Modern Language Association of America (26 Broadway, 3rd floor, New York, NY 10004-1789). Founded in 1883, it has more than 30,000 members, primarily university of college teachers, and it conducts an immerse range of programs and activities. Publications include PMLA (quarterly). Job Information Lists—English and Foreign Language versions are available on the Web. An important contribution of the Association is its style manual, available in high school and scholar’s versions, and also on the Web. The MLA International Bibliography, covered in detail in chapter 12, is among the world’s most important bibliographic resources covering drama, English, folklore, foreign languages, humanities, language, linguistics, and literature. The website for MLA is at http://www.mla.org/ (accessed December 19, 2012).
The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (1001 N Fairfax Street, Suite 200, Alexandria, VA 22314) was founded by MLA in 1967, but now exists as a separate entity. Its publications include Foreign Language Annals (6/yr.) and Series on Foreign Language Education (annual).
The National Federation of Modern Language Teachers Association (659 57th Ave., Omaha, NE 68132) is a federation of national, regional, and state associations in the United States that publishes The Modern Language Journal, a quarterly.
The American Association of Language Specialists (1000 Connecticut Ave., NW, Ste. 9, Washington, DC 20036) is a group of interpreters, editors, and translators who provide language services worldwide. The members’ directory is available on the Web. The Web address is http://www.taals.net (accessed December 19, 2012).
U.S. English (1747 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 1100, Washington, DC 20006) is an organization active in promoting English as the official governmental language of this country. It maintains a Web site at http://www.us-english.org/ (accessed December 20, 2012) that keeps members and the press up-to-date on legislative matters related to their goals.
There are a wide variety of organizations concerned with specific languages, and some maintain a Web presence. An example of the latter is Esperanto Language Society of Chicago (http://www.esperanto-chicago.org/ [accessed December 20, 2012]). Other organizations concerned with specific languages include the International Association for the Study of the Italian Language and Literature and the League for Yiddish, Inc. (200 West 72d St., New York, NY 10023).
The American Comparative Literature Association (University of Alabama, Box 870262, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0262) promotes the study and teaching of comparative literature in American universities, cosponsors Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature, and maintains a list of links to Web sites concerned with comparative literature. Its Web address is http://www.acla.org/ (accessed December 20, 2012).
The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (666 Broadway, 11th Fl., New York, NY 10012) assists “little magazines” in a variety of ways. The Council maintains a Web presence with links to many small presses at http://www.litline.org/ (accessed December 20, 2012).
Regional interests are served by such groups as the Society for the Study of Southern Literature and the Western Literature Association (Department of English, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-3200).
Various library, literary, and children’s literary associations serve a host of special clienteles with interests in all aspects of books, literature, and publishing. General association directories will lead the reader to the many organizations that are too specialized to be listed here.
Special collections in language and literature are numerous—they include those in information centers, libraries, associations, and scholarly societies--and there are far too many of them to list here. Good sources to use as supplements to this section are Subject Collections, compiled by Lee Ash and William G. Miller (7th ed., R. R. Bowker, 1993) and the Websites identified above. Besides this guide to subject collections by Ash and Miller, publications of the American Library Association, Special Libraries Association, and the Center for Research Libraries will guide the reader to other collections of note.
Some special collections remain noteworthy. They include the Folger Shakespeare Library (201 E. Capitol St. SE, Washington, DC 20003-1094) which has an active research and publication program in British civilization of the Tudor and Stuart periods and theatrical history as they relate to Shakespeare. See http://www.folger.edu/ (accessed December 20, 2012).
The Center for Hellenic Studies (3100 Whitehaven St., Washington, DC 20008) is an international center associated with Harvard University. It conducts research in such areas as classical Greek literature, philosophy, and history.
Other giant collections are held by the Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov [accessed December 20, 2012]), the British Library (http://portico.bl.uk/ [accessed December 20, 2012]), the Bibliotheque Nationale (http://www.bnf.fr/ [accessed December 20, 2012]), the New York Public Library (http://www.nypl.org/ [accessed December 20, 2012]), and Harvard University (http://www.harvard.edu [accessed December 20, 2012]). Information about the institutions and their holdings is readily accessible now via the Internet; many services can be provided electronically.