Language and literature: Two sides of a coin:
If the purpose of learning a language is communication and literature is communication, then the two are two sides of a coin, which are not separable (Adesuyi, 1991). The two aspects i.e., language and literature are used by people in everyday activities. When people speak, read novels, newspapers, etc., language is being used to express their thoughts and experiences. The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (2007) defines language as a system of communication by written or spoken words, which are used by the people of a particular country or area. This definition shows that the language of a people reflects their peculiarity as a country or area or society, which is reflected in their customs, culture, beliefs, traditions, norms and expectations. All these are usually expressed in the literature texts, especially in the fiction. The interpretation of this is that language does not develop in a vacuum and therefore, is part of the culture of a people and the chief means by which the members of a society communicate. A language therefore, is both a component of culture and a central network through which other components are expressed (Lado, 1964).
From the foregoing, it can be seen that these two subjects-English Language and Literature-in-English are related. The general belief here is that the knowledge of literature prepares the foundation for language learning. Apart from entertainment, literature enhances students’ general use of language since communication takes place all the time in Literature. Literature helps learners develop their understanding of other cultures, make them aware of the differences in cultures as well as enable them tolerate and understand other peoples’ cultures. Through literature, universal themes such as love, war, loss, etc. that are not always covered in the language course books are treated. Through literature, the learner achieves the following: cultural assimilation or acculturation; language development and competence; conflict resolution; a good liberal education and development of desired and desirable attributes. There is no doubt that a learner/ student exposed to all the virtues listed above shall be fully integrated into his culture as well as other people’s culture. He should also be fluent in language, having a very wide range of vocabulary at his disposal. From the above, it can be seen that literature has become an important window through which we can reach the stage of fluency in English Language and of course any language.
Realizing the importance of literature, as quoted in Ogunnaike (2002) opined that the two subjects should be integrated since they are inter-related. This perhaps led to the decision of policymakers in education to merge the two subjects at the Junior Secondary School (JSS) level. Thus, the National Curriculum for English Language in the Junior Secondary School has fused the two subjects into one subject named English Studies.
The implication of this is that the English Language teachers in the JSS are now saddled with the responsibility of teaching the new subject (English Studies), which consists of English language and Literature in English. However, this new arrangement is rocked with a number of problems. First and foremost, because there is no specific period allocated to Literature in English on the school’s general time-table, the teachers are faced with the problem of balancing the time allocation for the two aspects of the new subject at the junior secondary school level. Secondly, deriving from the first problem, teachers at this level of education, do not normally give enough attention to the literature aspect of the subject in the class as many of them do not even know the rationale for merging the two subjects.
At the Senior Secondary School (SSS) level, Literature-in-English is treated as a separate subject. That is while, English language is made a general subject for all students at this level of education, Literature-in-English is restricted to only Art students, in which case, the Science students are usually made to opt for Geography. To ensure that no student in science class offers Literature-in-English, Geography is made compulsory and it is taken, when Literature-in-English is taken by the Art Students.
This arrangement at the Senior Secondary School level is impacting negatively on the understanding of English Language. This points to the fact that Literature-in-English and English language are twin subjects, which if taught together, would enhance understanding of other subjects and would also widen the scope of reasoning of students in their world view.
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