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English studies

English study is an academic discipline that includes the study of literatures written in the English language (including literatures from the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand,Hong Kong, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, South Africa, and the Middle East, among other areas), English linguistics (including English phonetics, phonology, syntax, morphology, semantics, pragmatics, corpus linguistics, and stylistics), 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).

More broadly, English studies explores the production of and analysis of texts created in English (or in areas of the world in which English is a common mode of communication). It is common for academic departments of "English" or "English Studies" to include scholars of the English language, literature (including literary criticism and literary theory), linguistics, law, journalism, composition studies, the philosophy of language,literacy, publishing/history of the book, communication studies, technical communication, folklore, cultural studies, creative writing, critical theory, disability studies, area studies (especially American studies), theater,gender studies/ethnic studies, digital media/electronic publishing, film studies/media studies, rhetoric and philology/etymology, and various courses in the liberal arts and humanities, among others.

In most English-speaking countries, the literary and cultural dimensions of English studies are typically practiced in university departments of English, while the study of texts produced in non-English languages takes place in other departments, such as departments of foreign language or comparative literature. English linguistics is often studied in separate departments of linguistics. This disciplinary divide between a dominant linguistic or a literary 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).

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 the consumption, analysis, and production of 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 and research, advertising, public relations, law, and finance.

History of English studies

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 in Paris in 1830. 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 in 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.[5]

The English major rose into prominence in American colleges shortly after the introduction of the electives system[when?]. It provided an opportunity for students to develop 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.[6] 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 ancientGreek and Latin classics.

Since 2000, there have been more and more questions about the specific function of English departments at the contemporary U.S. college and university. 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.[7]

English studies

English linguistics

  • English sociolinguistics

  • Discourse analysis in English

  • English Stylistics (linguistics)

  • World Englishes

  • History of the English Language

  • Composition studies

  • Rhetoric

  • Technical communication

  • English language learning and teaching

  • English Literature

    • American literature, including:

      • African American literature

      • Jewish American literature

      • Southern literature

    • Australian literature

    • British literature (literature from some regions of the United Kingdom may be written in Celtic languages)

    • Canadian literature (a significant amount of Canadian literature is also written in French)

    • Irish literature

    • New Zealand literature

    • Scottish literature

    • Welsh literature

    • South African literature (excluding works written in other languages)

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. 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 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, the Victorian Novel, and Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.

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, and teaching. However, other less intuitive job options include positions in advertising, public relations, acting, law, business, marketing, and directing.

This article is about the art of written work. For the card game, see Literature (card game). For literature in the field technical publications, see Academic publishing.
The Classic of Rites (Chinese: 禮記; pinyin: Lǐjì), an ancient Chinese text. Certain definitions of literature have taken it to include all written work.

Literature consists of written productions, often restricted to those deemed to have artistic or intellectual value. Its Latin root literatura/litteratura (derived itself fromlittera, letter or handwriting) was used to refer to all written accounts, but intertwined with the roman concept of cultura: learning or cultivation. Literature often uses language differently than ordinary language (see literariness). Literature can be classified according to whether it is fiction or non-fiction and whether it is poetry orprose; it can be further distinguished according to major forms such as the novel, short story or drama; and works are often categorised according to historical periods or their adherence to certain aesthetic features or expectations (genre).

The concept has changed meaning over time: nowadays it can broaden to include non-written verbal art forms, and thus it is difficult to agree on its origin, which can be paired with that of language or writing itself. Developments in print technology have allowed an evergrowing distribution and proliferation of written works, culminating in electronic literature.


There have been various attempts to define "literature".[1] Simon and Delyse Ryan begin their attempt to answer the question "What is Literature?" with the observation:

The quest to discover a definition for "literature" is a road that is much travelled, though the point of arrival, if ever reached, is seldom satisfactory. Most attempted definitions are broad and vague, and they inevitably change over time. In fact, the only thing that is certain about defining literature is that the definition will change. Concepts of what is literature change over time as well.[2]

Definitions of literature have varied over time; it is a "culturally relative definition".[3] In Western Europe prior to the eighteenth century, literature as a term indicated all books and writing.[3] A more restricted sense of the term emerged during the Romantic period, in which it began to demarcate "imaginative" literature.[4][5] Contemporary debates over what constitutes literature can be seen as returning to the older, more inclusive notion of what constitutes literature. Cultural studies, for instance, takes as its subject of analysis both popular and minority genres, in addition to canonical works.[3]

The value judgement definition of literature considers it to exclusively include writing that possesses high quality or distinction, forming part of the so-called belles-lettres('fine writing') tradition.[6] This is the definition used in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1910–11) when it classifies literature as "the best expression of the best thought reduced to writing."[7] However, this has the result that there is no objective definition of what constitutes "literature"; anything can be literature, and anything which is universally regarded as literature has the potential to be excluded, since value-judgements can change over time.[6]

The formalist definition is that the history of "literature" foregrounds poetic effects; it is the "literariness" or "poeticity" of literature that distinguishes it from ordinary speech or other kinds of writing (e.g., journalism).[8][9] Jim Meyer considers this a useful characteristic in explaining the use of the term to mean published material in a particular field (e.g., "scientific literature"), as such writing must use language according to particular standards.[1] The problem with the formalist definition is that in order to say that literature deviates from ordinary uses of language, those uses must first be identified; this is difficult because "ordinary language" is an unstable category, differing according to social categories and across history.[10]

Etymologically, the term derives from Latin literatura/litteratura "learning, a writing, grammar," originally "writing formed with letters," from litera/littera "letter".[11] In spite of this, the term has also been applied to spoken or sung texts.[1][12]

Major forms

A calligram by Guillaume Apollinaire. These are a type of poem in which the written words are arranged in such a way to produce a visual image.

Poetry is a form of literary art which uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, prosaic ostensible meaning.[13] Poetry has traditionally been distinguished from prose by its being set in verse;[a] prose is cast in sentences, poetry in lines; the syntax of prose is dictated by meaning, whereas that of poetry is held across metre or the visual aspects of the poem.[18] Prior to the nineteenth century, poetry was commonly understood to be something set in metrical lines; accordingly, in 1658 a definition of poetry is "any kind of subject consisting of Rythm or Verses".[13] Possibly as a result of Aristotle's influence (his Poetics), "poetry" before the nineteenth century was usually less a technical designation for verse than a normative category of fictive or rhetorical art.[19] As a form it may pre-date literacy, with the earliest works being composed within and sustained by an oral tradition;[20][21] hence it constitutes the earliest example of literature.


Prose is a form of language that possesses ordinary syntax and natural speech rather than rhythmic structure; in which regard, along with its measurement in sentences rather than lines, it differs from poetry.[18][22] On the historical development of prose, Richard Graff notes that "[In the case of Ancient Greece] recent scholarship has emphasized the fact that formal prose was a comparatively late development, an "invention" properly associated with the classical period".[23]

  • Novel: a long fictional prose narrative. It was the form's close relation to real life that differentiated it from the chivalric romance;[24][25] in most European languages the equivalent term is roman, indicating the proximity of the forms.[25] In English, the term emerged from the Romance languages in the late fifteenth century, with the meaning of "news"; it came to indicate something new, without a distinction between fact or fiction.[26] Although there are many historical prototypes, so-called "novels before the novel",[27] the modern novel form emerges late in cultural history — roughly during the eighteenth century.[28] Initially subject to much criticism, the novel has acquired a dominant position amongst literary forms, both popularly and critically.[25][29][30]

  • Novella: in purely quantitative terms, the novella exists between the novel and short story; the publisher Melville House classifies it as "too short to be a novel, too long to be a short story".[31] There is no precise definition in terms of word or page count.[32] Literary prizes and publishing houses often have their own arbitrary limits,[33] which vary according to their particular intentions. Summarising the variable definitions of the novella, William Giraldi concludes "[it is a form] whose identity seems destined to be disputed into perpetuity".[34] It has been suggested that the size restriction of the form produces various stylistic results, both some that are shared with the novel or short story,[35][36] and others unique to the form.[37]

  • Short story: a dilemma in defining the "short story" as a literary form is how to, or whether one should, distinguish it from any short narrative; hence it also has a contested origin,[38] variably suggested as the earliest short narratives (e.g. the Bible), early short story writers (e.g. Edgar Allan Poe), or the clearly modern short story writers (e.g. Anton Chekhov).[39] Apart from its distinct size, various theorists have suggested that the short story has a characteristic subject matter or structure;[40][41] these discussions often position the form in some relation to the novel.[42]


Drama is literature intended for performance.[43] The form is often combined with music and dance, as in opera and musical theatre. A play is a subset of this form, referring to the written dramatic work of a playwrightthat is intended for performance in a theatre; it comprises chiefly dialogue between characters, and usually aims at dramatic or theatrical performance rather than at reading. A closet drama, by contrast, refers to a play written to be read rather than to be performed; hence, it is intended that the meaning of such a work can be realized fully on the page.[44] Nearly all drama took verse form until comparatively recently.

Greek drama exemplifies the earliest form of drama of which we have substantial knowledge. Tragedy, as a dramatic genre, developed as a performance associated with religious and civic festivals, typically enacting or developing upon well-known historical or mythological themes. Tragedies generally presented very serious themes. With the advent of newer technologies, scripts written for non-stage media have been added to this form. War of the Worlds (radio) in 1938 saw the advent of literature written for radio broadcast, and many works of Drama have been adapted for film or television. Conversely, television, film, and radio literature have been adapted to printed or electronic media.

The history of literature follows closely the development of civilization. When defined exclusively as written work, Ancient Egyptian literature,[45] along with Sumerian literature are considered the world's oldest literatures.[46] The primary genres of the literature ofAncient Egypt—didactic texts, hymns and prayers, and tales—were almost entirely written in verse;[47] while use of poetic devices is clearly recognisable, the prosody of the verse is unknown.[48]

Different historical periods are reflected in literature. National and tribal sagas, accounts of the origin of the world and of customs, and myths which sometimes carry moral or spiritual messages predominate in the pre-urban eras. The epics of Homer, dating from the early to middle Iron age, and the great Indian epics of a slightly later period, have more evidence of deliberate literary authorship, surviving like the older myths through oral tradition for long periods before being written down.

“The roots of all our modern academic fields can be found within the pages of literature.” [49] Literature in all its forms can be seen as written records, whether the literature itself be factual or fictional, it is still quite possible to decipher facts through things like characters’ actions and words or the authors’ style of writing and the intent behind the words. The plot is for more than just entertainment purposes; within it lies information about economics, psychology, science, religions, politics, cultures, and social depth. Studying and analyzing literature becomes very important in terms of learning about our history. Through the study of past literature we are able to learn about how society has evolved and about the societal norms during each of the different periods all throughout history. This can even help us to understand references made in more modern literature because authors often make references to Greek mythology and other old religious texts or historical moments. Not only is there literature written on each of the aforementioned topics themselves, and how they have evolved throughout history (like a book about the history of economics or a book about evolution and science, for example) but we can also learn about these things in fictional works. Authors often include historical moments in their works, like when Lord Byron talks about the Spanish and the French in ‘‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: Canto I’’[50] and expresses his opinions through his character Childe Harold. Through literature we are able to continuously uncover new information about history. It is easy to see how all academic fields have roots in literature.[49] Information became easier to pass down from generation to generation once we began to write it down. Eventually everything was written down, from things like home remedies and cures for illness, or how to build shelter to traditions and religious practices. From there people were able to study literature, improve on ideas, further our knowledge, and academic fields such as the medical field or trades could be started. In much the same way as the literature that we study today continue to be updated as we continue to evolve and learn more and more.

As a more urban culture developed, academies provided a means of transmission for speculative and philosophical literature in early civilizations, resulting in the prevalence of literature in Ancient China, Ancient India,Persia and Ancient Greece and Rome. Many works of earlier periods, even in narrative form, had a covert moral or didactic purpose, such as the Sanskrit Panchatantra or the Metamorphoses of Ovid. Drama andsatire also developed as urban culture provided a larger public audience, and later readership, for literary production. Lyric poetry (as opposed to epic poetry) was often the speciality of courts and aristocratic circles, particularly in East Asia where songs were collected by the Chinese aristocracy as poems, the most notable being the Shijing or Book of Songs. Over a long period, the poetry of popular pre-literate balladry and song interpenetrated and eventually influenced poetry in the literary medium.

In ancient China, early literature was primarily focused on philosophy, historiography, military science, agriculture, and poetry. China, the origin of modern paper making and woodblock printing, produced one of the world's first print cultures.[51] Much of Chinese literature originates with the Hundred Schools of Thought period that occurred during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (769-269 BCE). The most important of these include the Classics of Confucianism, of Daoism, of Mohism, of Legalism, as well as works of military science (e.g. Sun Tzu's The Art of War) and Chinese history (e.g. Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian). Ancient Chinese literature had a heavy emphasis on historiography, with often very detailed court records. An exemplary piece of narrative history of ancient China was the Zuo Zhuan, which was compiled no later than 389 BCE, and attributed to the blind 5th century BCE historian Zuo Qiuming.

In ancient India, literature originated from stories that were originally orally transmitted. Early genres included drama, fables, sutras and epic poetry. Sanskrit literature begins with the Vedas, dating back to 1500–1000 BCE, and continues with the Sanskrit Epics of Iron Age India. The Vedas are among the oldest sacred texts. The Samhitas (vedic collections) date to roughly 1500–1000 BCE, and the "circum-Vedic" texts, as well as the redaction of the Samhitas, date to c. 1000-500 BCE, resulting in a Vedic period, spanning the mid 2nd to mid 1st millennium BCE, or the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age.[52] The period between approximately the 6th to 1st centuries BC saw the composition and redaction of the two most influential Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, with subsequent redaction progressing down to the 4th century AD.

In ancient Greece, the epics of Homer, who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Hesiod, who wrote Works and Days and Theogony, are some of the earliest, and most influential, of Ancient Greek literature. Classical Greek genres included philosophy, poetry, historiography, comedies and dramas. Plato and Aristotle authored philosophical texts that are the foundation of Western philosophy, Sappho and Pindar were influentiallyric poets, and Herodotus and Thucydides were early Greek historians. Although drama was popular in Ancient Greece, of the hundreds of tragedies written and performed during the classical age, only a limited number of plays by three authors still exist: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The plays of Aristophanes provide the only real examples of a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy, the earliest form of Greek Comedy, and are in fact used to define the genre.[53]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,German writer and author of the Faustbooks

Roman histories and biographies anticipated the extensive mediaeval literature of lives of saints and miraculous chronicles, but the most characteristic form of the Middle Ageswas the romance, an adventurous and sometimes magical narrative with strong popular appeal. Controversial, religious, political and instructional literature proliferated during the Renaissance as a result of the invention of printing, while the mediaeval romance developed into a more character-based and psychological form of narrative, the novel, of which early and important examples are the Chinese Monkey and the German Faust books.

In the Age of Reason philosophical tracts and speculations on history and human nature integrated literature with social and political developments. The inevitable reaction was the explosion of Romanticism in the later 18th century which reclaimed the imaginative and fantastical bias of old romances and folk-literature and asserted the primacy of individual experience and emotion. But as the 19th-century went on, European fiction evolved towards realism and naturalism, the meticulous documentation of real life and social trends. Much of the output of naturalism was implicitly polemical, and influenced social and political change, but 20th century fiction and drama moved back towards the subjective, emphasising unconscious motivations and social and environmental pressures on the individual. Writers such as Proust, Eliot, Joyce, Kafka and Pirandello exemplify the trend of documenting internal rather than external realities.

Genre fiction also showed it could question reality in its 20th century forms, in spite of its fixed formulas, through the enquiries of the skeptical detective and the alternative realities of science fiction. The separation of "mainstream" and "genre" forms (including journalism) continued to blur during the period up to our own times. William Burroughs, in his early works, and Hunter S. Thompson expanded documentary reporting into strong subjective statements after the second World War, and post-modern critics have disparaged the idea of objective realism in general.


There are numerous awards recognising achievement and contribution in literature. Given the diversity of the field, awards are typically limited in scope, usually on: form, genre, language, nationality and output (e.g. for first-time writers or debut novels).[54]

The Nobel Prize in Literature was one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895,[55] and is awarded to an author on the basis of their body of work, rather than to, or for, a particular work itself.[b] Other literary prizes for which all nationalities are eligible include: the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Man Booker International Prize and the Franz Kafka Prize.


An essay consists of a discussion of a topic from an author's personal point of view, exemplified by works by Michel de Montaigne or by Charles Lamb.

Genres related to the essay may include the memoir and the epistle.

Other prose literature

Philosophical, historical, journalistic, and scientific writings are traditionally ranked as literature. They offer some of the oldest prose writings in existence; novels and prose stories earned the names "fiction" to distinguish them from factual writing or nonfiction, which writers historically have crafted in prose.

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