Academic journal article ARIEL

Response to Umunc and Raw

Academic journal article ARIEL

Response to Umunc and Raw

Article excerpt

I appreciate Himmet Umunc and Laurence Raw's written response ("Reassessing English Studies in Turkey," ARIEL 48.1) as it testifies to the considerable impact my article ("English Studies in Turkey: An Assessment," ARIEL 46.1-2) has had in Turkey. However, I am unhappy with the fact that their response does not engage much with my article's concerns. For the most part, Umunc: and Raw's essay has its own agenda. The authors gesture toward my article repeatedly but represent it inaccurately and often misconstrue it.

In their first sentence, Umunc and Raw affirm their interest in my article and take note of its two main concerns, writing of my "comments on language acquisition and how it dictates the ways in which learners and educators alike perceive the subject as a body of knowledge rather than a field of study." The immediate problem here is that I do not state or suggest that the first concern "dictates" the shape or coming-into-being of the second. I see and specify two problems: "ineffective practices of English-language teaching impede English-language acquisition, and a long-standing misconception of literary studies as a field of scholarly endeavour precludes effective contribution to scholarly research and publication" (Randall 50). I would ask readers to note the coordinating conjunction. I do not state that the first topic leads to or causes the second--an interesting argument, and one that probably could be made. But my article's ambitions are more modest: present two problems, which are serious and substantial problems if they exist, and then demonstrate that they do exist. Umunt; and Raw, however, need the second problem to depend on the first, because their main challenge to my argument, which they promptly state, is that they "doubt whether translation occupies as significant a place in the learning agenda as Randall suggests." This is a relatively minor objection, unless the big university-level problem of misunderstanding English studies as a domain of knowledge rather than a field of study depends on language acquisition and the specific impediments it faces.

For Umunc and Raw, the language acquisition problem is not mainly a matter of poorly implemented translation practices. They first mention "large classes taught by overworked educators"--can this be considered a problem specific to Turkish education? They then conduct a somewhat lengthy discussion about the bureaucratization of education in Turkey (a very real problem I mention in my article), complaining of "[o]fficial textbooks and curricula," monitoring by "government-appointed inspectors," emphasis on completion of tasks and passing of examinations, and a resulting disillusionment and "lack of confidence" in both educators and learners. The authors wrap up this section of their discussion by stating that "[i]n this kind of educational context, it is hardly surprising that language learning is dominated by notions of equivalence--in other words, the need to find the 'exact' way of translating source into target languages." So, ineffective translation practices are not the main impediment to English acquisition (as I suggest); ineffective translation practice is merely the minor (but strangely summary) problem to which all of the more important problems lead.

The authors then state a key thesis of their independent (that is, unresponsive) argument: "The principal objective of any literature course should be to increase self-confidence--to make learners aware that their point of view on a text matters." I, for one, would very much like to have an authority for this--some prominent, fairly recent critical voice with whom the authors concur. Personally, I believe (and I think Gayatri Spivak, my duly cited authority, would agree) that a principal objective of a literature course is to help students recognize the otherness of texts, the way texts manage to cogently articulate ideas and values that differ from those they already have in place. …

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