English studies

Last updated

English studies (usually called simply English) is an academic discipline taught in primary, secondary, and post-secondary education in English-speaking countries; it is not to be confused with English taught as a foreign language, which is a distinct discipline. It involves the study and exploration of texts created in English literature. English studies include: the study of literature written in the English language (especially novels, plays, short stories, and poetry), the majority of which comes from Britain, the United States, and Ireland (although English-language literature from any country may be studied, and local or national literature is usually emphasized in any given country); English composition, including writing essays, short stories, and poetry; English language arts, including the study of grammar, usage, and style; and English sociolinguistics, including discourse analysis of written and spoken texts in the English language, the history of the English language, English language learning and teaching, and the study of World Englishes. English linguistics (syntax, morphology, phonetics, phonology, etc.) is usually treated as a distinct discipline, taught in a department of linguistics.


The disciplinary divide between a dominant literature or usage orientation is one motivation for the division of the North American Modern Language Association (MLA) into two subgroups. At universities in non-English-speaking countries, the same department often covers all aspects of English studies, including linguistics: this is reflected, for example, in the structure and activities of the European Society for the Study of English (ESSE).

It is common for departments of English to offer courses and scholarship in the areas of the English language, literature (including literary criticism and literary theory), public speaking and speech-writing, rhetoric, composition studies, creative writing, philology and etymology, journalism, poetry, publishing, literacy, area studies (especially American studies), the philosophy of language, theater and play-writing, screenwriting, communication studies, technical communication, cultural studies, critical theory, gender studies, ethnic studies, disability studies, digital media and electronic publishing, film studies and other media studies, and various courses in the liberal arts and humanities, among others. In most English-speaking countries, the study at all educational levels of texts produced in non-English languages takes place in other departments, such as departments of foreign language or of comparative literature.


See also Literature and linguistics, along with List of academic disciplines

English major

The English Major (alternatively "English concentration," "B.A. in English") is a term in the United States and a few other countries for an undergraduate university degree focused around reading, analyzing, and writing texts in the English language. The term may also be used to describe a student who is pursuing such a degree.

Students who major in English reflect upon, analyse, and interpret literature and film, presenting their analyses in clear, cogent writing. Although help-wanted postings rarely solicit English majors specifically, a degree in English hones critical thinking skills essential to a number of career fields, including writing, editing, publishing, teaching, research, advertising, public relations, law, and finance.


The history of English studies at the modern university in Europe and America begins in the second half of the nineteenth century. Initially, English studies comprised a motley array of content: the practice of oratory, the study of rhetoric and grammar, the composition of poetry, and the appreciation of literature (mostly by authors from England, since American literature and language study was only added in the twentieth century). [1] In Germany and several other European countries, English philology, a strongly positivistic and historically interested practice of reading pre-modern texts, became the preferred scholarly paradigm, but English-speaking countries distanced themselves from philological paradigms soon after World War I. [2] At the end of this process, English departments tended to refocus their work on various forms of writing instruction (creative, professional, critical) and the interpreting of literary texts, and teacher education in English recovered from the neglect it had suffered because of more science-oriented paradigms. [3] Today, English departments in native-speaking countries re-evaluate their roles as sole guardians of the discipline because English is less and less native speakers' unique 'property' and has to be shared with the millions of speakers and writers from other countries for whom English is an essential means of communication and artistic expression. [4]

English literature became an object of study in French universities as part of foreign (comparative) literature in the nineteenth century. A chair of foreign literature was established at the College de France in 1841. [5] English was first taught independently from other languages and literature in the University of Lille and in the University of Lyons and only afterwards in the Sorbonne. These three universities were the first major centres of English studies in France. The first lecturer and later professor of English studies would seem to have been Auguste Angellier. After spending several years teaching French in England in the 1860s and 1870s, he became a lecturer in English studies at the University of Lille in 1881 and a professor of English in 1893. In France nowadays, literature, civilisation, linguistics and the spoken and written language are all important in English studies in universities. [6]

The English major rose to prominence in American colleges during the first half of the 1970s. [7] It provided an opportunity for students to develop critical skills in analytical reading with the aim of improving their writing, as well as exercises in rhetoric and persuasive expression that had been traditionally only taught in classical studies and available to the very few due to language barriers and a shortage of professors who could actively engage students in the humanities. Outside the United States (originating in Scotland and then rippling out into the English-speaking world) the English major became popular in the latter half of the 19th century during a time when religious beliefs were shaken in the face of scientific discoveries. [8] Literature was thought to act as a replacement for religion in the retention and advancement of culture, and the English Major thus provided students with the chance to draw moral, ethical, and philosophical qualities and meanings of older studies from a richer and broader source of literature than that of the ancient Greek and Latin classics.

Since 2000, there have been questions about the specific function of English departments at the contemporary U.S. college and university.[ by whom? ] The absence of a clearly defined disciplinary identity and the increasingly utilitarian goals in U.S. society present a challenge to those academic units still mostly focusing on the printed book and the traditional division in historical periods and national literatures, and neglecting allegedly non-theoretical areas such as professional writing, composition, and multimodal communication. [9]

Skills acquired

In the past an academic degree in English usually meant an intensive study of British and American literary masterpieces. Now, however, an English Major encompasses a much broader range of topics which stretch over multiple disciplines. While the requirements for an English Major vary from university to university, most English departments emphasize three core skills: analyzing literature, a process which requires logic and reflective analysis; creativity and imagination with regards to the production of good writing; and an understanding of different cultures, civilizations, and literary styles from various time periods. The skills gained from studying English include acquiring tools that will never lose value, understanding the ever-changing media, to explain your own world, and more. [10] Prospective English Majors can expect to take college courses in academic writing, creative writing, literary theory, British and American literature, multicultural literature, several literary genres (such as poetry, drama, and film studies), and a number of elective multidisciplinary topics such as history, courses in the social sciences, and studies in a foreign language. To the end of studying these disciplines, candidates for a Major in English attain skills in professional writing with relations to rhetoric, literary analysis, an appreciation for the diversity of cultures, and an ability to clearly and persuasively express their ideas in writing.

Examples of courses

Most English courses fall into the broader categories of either Literature-based studies, which focus on classical authors and time periods, or Rhetorical studies, which concentrate on communication skills in preparation for specialization in a variety of professional fields. While specific graduation requirements vary from university to university, students can expect to study some of the following courses.

Courses in Writing and Composition : such as Academic and Professional Writing, which stress analytical writing and train students to produce clear, cohesive arguments.

Courses in British literature : Courses may focus on time periods, authors, genres, or literary movements. Examples include Shakespeare's Tragedies, History and Theory of British Drama, Medieval English Literature, and the Victorian Novel.

Courses in American literature : Depending upon the university, these courses can either be broken down by time period, such as Nineteenth Century Gothic Fiction; authors, such as classes on Hawthorne, Hemingway, or Frost; or Literary schools and movements, such as Naturalism or Transcendentalism.

Courses in Multicultural Literature: The value of bringing a range of cultural and multidisciplinary perspectives to the study of English literature is being increasingly recognized in a number of universities. Examples include Multi-cultural Literatures in Medieval England, Latina Narratives, and Studies in Jewish Literature.

Rhetorical courses: Focus on techniques of persuasive arguing in the written form, as well as skills which involve the analysis of written texts.

Career opportunities

A major in English opens a variety of career opportunities for college graduates entering the job market. Since students who graduate with an English degree are trained to ask probing questions about large bodies of texts and then to formulate, analyze, and answer those questions in coherent, persuasive prose—skills vital to any number of careers—English majors have much to choose from after graduation. The most obvious career choices for English majors are writing, publishing, journalism, human resources specialist, and teaching. However, other less intuitive job options include positions in advertising, public relations, acting, law, business, marketing, information assurance, and directing.

At High School


Most British children take English Language and English Literature as GCSE subjects, and many go on to study these at A Level. There continues to be debate within the teaching community regarding the relevance of Shakespeare for contemporary teens, some arguing for more modern texts, and some upholding the virtues of the classics. See also O Level.

See also

Related Research Articles

Media studies is a discipline and field of study that deals with the content, history, and effects of various media; in particular, the mass media. Media Studies may draw on traditions from both the social sciences and the humanities, but mostly from its core disciplines of mass communication, communication, communication sciences, and communication studies.

Rhetoric Art of discourse

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic, is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the capacities of writers or speakers needed to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. Aristotle defines rhetoric as "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion" and since mastery of the art was necessary for victory in a case at law; or for passage of proposals in the assembly; or for fame as a speaker in civic ceremonies; he calls it "a combination of the science of logic and of the ethical branch of politics". Rhetoric typically provides heuristics for understanding, discovering, and developing arguments for particular situations, such as Aristotle's three persuasive audience appeals: logos, pathos, and ethos. The five canons of rhetoric or phases of developing a persuasive speech were first codified in classical Rome: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.

Language education – the process and practice of teaching a second or foreign language – is primarily a branch of applied linguistics, but can be an interdisciplinary field. There are four main learning categories for language education: communicative competencies, proficiencies, cross-cultural experiences, and multiple literacies.

English as a second or foreign language is the use of English by speakers with different native languages. Language education for people learning English may be known as English as a second language (ESL), English as a foreign language (EFL), English as an additional language (EAL), or English for speakers of other languages (ESOL). The aspect in which ESL is taught is referred to as Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) or Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Technically, TEFL refers to English language teaching in a country where English is not the official language, TESL refers to teaching English to non-native English speakers in a native English speaking country and TESOL covers both. In practice however, each of these terms tends to be used more generically across the full field. The one you are more likely to hear depends largely on your location - with TEFL more widely used in the UK and TESL or TESOL in the US.

Hankuk University of Foreign Studies university in South Korea

Hankuk University of Foreign Studies is a private research university based in Seoul, Republic of Korea. The university was founded in 1954 to promote foreign language education in post-war Korea. The university is located in Seoul and Yongin. The university has 60 departments and offers 53 different language courses. The name of the university is derived from the romanization of the Korean word Hankuk which means Korea. The university is considered one of the best private higher education institutions in South Korea, especially on foreign language and social science. Most recently, HUFS won 3rd place in 2020 QS World University Rankings on the subject of Linguistics, 4th on English Language and Literature, 4th on Modern languages and 6th on Arts and Humanities in Korea. It has a graduate school of interpretation and translation.

Language arts is the study and improvement of the arts of language. Traditionally, the primary divisions in language arts are literature and language, where language in this case refers to both linguistics, and specific languages. Language arts instruction typically consists of a combination of reading, writing (composition), speaking, and listening. In schools, language arts is taught alongside science, mathematics, and social studies.

Belles-lettres or belles lettres is a category of writing, originally meaning beautiful or fine writing. In the modern narrow sense, it is a label for literary works that do not fall into the major categories such as fiction, poetry, or drama. The phrase is sometimes used pejoratively for writing that focuses on the aesthetic qualities of language rather than its practical application. A writer of belles-lettres is a belletrist.

English for academic purposes (EAP), commonly known as Academic English, entails training students, usually in a higher education setting, to use language appropriately for study. It is one of the most common forms of English for specific purposes (ESP).

Composition studies Education

Composition studies is the professional field of writing, research, and instruction, focusing especially on writing at the college level in the United States. The flagship national organization for this field is the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

The grammar–translation method is a method of teaching foreign languages derived from the classical method of teaching Greek and Latin. In grammar–translation classes, students learn grammatical rules and then apply those rules by translating sentences between the target language and the native language. Advanced students may be required to translate whole texts word-for-word. The method has two main goals: to enable students to read and translate literature written in the source language, and to further students' general intellectual development. It originated from the practice of teaching Latin; in the early 1500s, students learned Latin for communication, but after the language died out it was studied purely as an academic discipline. When teachers started teaching other foreign languages in the 19th century, they used the same translation-based approach as had been used for teaching Latin. The method has been criticized for its shortcomings.

Contrastive rhetoric is the study of how a person's first language and his or her culture influence writing in a second language or how a common language is used among different cultures. The term was first coined by the American applied linguist Robert Kaplan in 1966 to denote eclecticism and subsequent growth of collective knowledge in certain languages. It was widely expanded from 1996 to today by Finnish-born, US-based applied linguist Ulla Connor, among others. Since its inception the area of study has had a significant impact on the exploration of intercultural discourse structures that extend beyond the target language's native forms of discourse organization. The field brought attention to cultural and associated linguistic habits in expression of English language. This acceptance of dialect geography was especially welcomed in the United States on ESL instruction, as an emphasis on particular style in spoken-language and writing skills was previously dominated in both English as a second language (ESL) and English as a foreign language (EFL) classes.

Fred Newton Scott American writer

Fred Newton Scott (1860–1931) was an American writer, educator and rhetorician. Scott received his A.B., A.M, and Ph.D from the University of Michigan. In the preface to The New Composition Rhetoric, Newton Scott states “that composition is…a social act, and the student [should] therefore constantly [be] led to think of himself as writing or speaking for a specified audience. Thus not mere expression but communication as well is made the business of composition.” Fred Newton Scott saw rhetoric as an intellectually challenging subject. He looked to English departments to balance work in rhetoric and linguistics in addition to literary study.

First-year composition

First-year composition is an introductory core curriculum writing course in American colleges and universities. This course focuses on improving students' abilities to write in a university setting and introduces students to writing practices in the disciplines and professions. These courses are traditionally required of incoming students, thus the previous name, "Freshman Composition." Scholars working within the field of composition-rhetoric often have teaching first-year composition (FYC) courses as the practical focus of their scholarly work.

David J. Bartholomae is an American scholar in composition studies. He received his PhD from Rutgers University in 1975 and is currently a Professor of English and former Chair of the English Department at the University of Pittsburgh. His primary research interests are in composition, literacy, and pedagogy, and his work engages scholarship in rhetoric and in American literature/American Studies. His articles and essays have appeared in publications such as PMLA, Critical Quarterly, and College Composition and Communication.

The Faculty of Philosophy of Greifswald University is one of five faculties and the founding faculty of the University of Greifswald in Greifswald, Germany.

Writing across the curriculum (WAC) is a movement within contemporary composition studies that concerns itself with writing in classes outside of composition, literature, and other English courses. According to a comprehensive survey performed in 2006–2007, approximately half of American institutes of higher learning have something that can be identified as a WAC program. In 2010, Thaiss and Porter defined WAC as "a program or initiative used to 'assist teachers across disciplines in using student writing as an instructional tool in their teaching'". WAC, then, is a programmatic effort to introduce multiple instructional uses of writing beyond assessment. WAC has also been part of the student-centered pedagogies movement seeking to replace teaching via one-way transmission of knowledge from teacher to student with more interactive strategies that enable students to interact with and participate in creating knowledge in the classroom.

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It involves analysing language form, language meaning, and language in context. Linguists traditionally analyse human language by observing an interplay between sound and meaning. Linguistics also deals with the social, cultural, historical and political factors that influence language, through which linguistic and language-based context is often determined. Research on language through the sub-branches of historical and evolutionary linguistics also focuses on how languages change and grow, particularly over an extended period of time.

The field of rhetoric has been a matter of considerable debate for millennia. Derived from the Greek word for public speaking, rhetoric's original concern dealt primarily with the spoken word. Aristotle wrote a philosophical work that still has major scholarly impact, Rhetoric, in which he identifies five canons of the field of rhetoric: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Invention is concerned with the content or idea being expressed, and relates to the rhetorician's understanding of his goals. Arrangement deals with issues of how to best organize an argument in order to attain the speaker or writer's goals. It is closely related to style, the third element, which relates to gestures, metaphors, and word choices selected to best influence the audience and reach the desired goal. Memory is the fourth and simplest element of rhetoric in being related specifically to spoken rhetoric, specifically concerned with remembering the words in one's speech. Finally, delivery concerns tone, word choice, posture and other such bodily signs that influence the effect of one's words on an audience.

The College of Arts and Sciences at Illinois State provides many majors and minors at the undergraduate level. Some of these programs are interdisciplinary. Many departments have teacher education programs where a student majors in a subject discipline while getting credentials towards a teaching certificate.

Martin Nystrand is an American composition and education theorist. He is Louise Durham Mead Professor Emeritus in the Department of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Professor Emeritus of Education at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.


  1. For a survey of these developments, see Gerald Graff, Professing Literature. An Institutional History (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987).
  2. Richard Utz, "Englische Philologie vs. English Studies: A Foundational Conflict," in: Das Potential europäischer Philologien: Geschichte, Leistung, Funktion, ed. Christoph König (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2009), pp. 34-44.
  3. Bruce McComiskey, ed., English Studies. An Introduction to the Discipline (Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2006), esp. pp. 44-48, "The New English Studies."
  4. See, for example, the English Without Borders Archived 2014-02-04 at the Wayback Machine project at Texas A&M University
  5. Vorachek, Laura (2017). "Journalism and the Periodical Press in Nineteenth-Century Britain ed. by Joanne Shattock (review)". Victorian Periodicals Review. 50 (4): 829–833. doi:10.1353/vpr.2017.0059. ISSN   1712-526X.
  6. Imelda Bonel-Elliott (2000), “English Studies in France” in: Engler, Balz and Haas, Renate, European English Studies: Contributions Towards a History of the Discipline. Leicester: The English Association for ESSE, pp. 69-88.
  7. National Center for Education Statistics (January 1993). "120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait" (PDF). National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved September 12, 2018.
  8. "Literature and Science" (Matthew Arnold [1882])
  9. Richard Utz, "The Trouble with English," Chronicle of Higher Education, 13 January 2013 (http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2013/01/03/the-trouble-with-english/); and "Quo vadis, English Studies," Philologie im Netz 69 (2014): 93-100 (http://web.fu-berlin.de/phin/phin69/p69t8.htm)
  10. "Why Major in English?". Yale University. Retrieved 23 September 2017.