Alphabet to Email: How Written English Evolved and Where It's Heading

By Naomi S. Baron | Go to book overview

5

The Rise of English Comp

Freshman comp. Mention the phrase to anyone who’s been through the American system of higher education, and you’ll be greeted with a wan smile (or groan). Whether painful or ultimately productive, the one commonality is that the experience is nearly universal.

The story of how English composition became a requirement in the American college curriculum stands as a case study of the transition from writing as a durable record or re-presentation of speech, to writing as a mirror of spoken language. In this chapter, we’ll follow the emergence of English comp but also look at changing notions about appropriate subject matter for written composition and evolving definitions of what it means to be an author. In Chapter 6, we’ll revisit some of these same themes in a second case study: the history of English punctuation.


GENESIS OF A WRITING AGENDA

In just over a hundred years, American notions about the place, form, and purpose of composition in education underwent profound alteration. Between the 1870s and today, the ideas of two educational reformers— one a chemist, the other a philosopher—led Americans to abandon classical models of education, call for enhanced English composition skills, and emphasize self-expression as the raison d’être for writing.

Who was the audience for these educational transformations?

-143-

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Alphabet to Email: How Written English Evolved and Where It's Heading
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Figures x
  • Preface xi
  • 1 - Robin Hood’s Retort 1
  • 2 - Legitimating Written English 26
  • 3 - Who Writes, Who Reads, and Why 48
  • 4 - Setting Standards 95
  • 5 - The Rise of English Comp 143
  • 6 - Commas and Canaries 167
  • 7 - What Remington Wrought 197
  • 8 - Language at a Distance 216
  • 9 - Why the Jury’s Still Out on Email 247
  • 10 - Epilogue: Destiny or Choice 260
  • Notes 270
  • Bibliography 285
  • Name Index 305
  • Subject Index 311
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