Common Tongues

Editors shouldn't say this kind of thing, but I'm rather chuffed with this issue, and not solely because this time most of it's been written by other people. When I took over the Bulletin last year, I only had two real ideas about where it ought to go. The first, and first to be implemented, was "online"; the Bulletin is now an electronic journal on the World Wide Web at - where some of this issue has appeared months ahead of its paper incarnation. The electronic edition is still a rather poorer relation than I would have wished by this stage - among other delinquencies, I still haven't been able to face converting last year's graphics-packed language teaching survey - but it's already a useful resource, and by the time you read this it will be accompanied at the same address by the updated electronic edition of the Classical Association's Classicists in British Universities.

The second place I wanted the Bulletin to go was "international". Most British classicists, myself included, have only the haziest notion of how professional structures and pressures in this country compare with those experienced by our colleagues abroad. (To this end, the theme of the 1997 CUCD panel at Royal Holloway will be the comparison of classicists' experience of the profession in the UK with the situation overseas - a subject on which there is plenty of anecdotal awareness, but little attempt to pull the fragments together.)

But one thing especially missing in British classics is the kind of open self-examination widespread in the US of the profession's aims, structures, and goals, both internally and within the larger academic and national communities. The difference is frankly less one of culture than of national politics and resourcing. If British classicists spend so much less time than their north American colleagues in discussion of professional issues, it is largely because they spend so much more of their time teaching. (This would only be an arguable sign of healthy priorities if it were the result of choice rather than necessity.) Understandably, they thus tend to regard professional debate as at best a luxury reserved for those who can think about something beyond mere survival, and at worst a symptom and potential tool of provenly-sinister government policy. (Witness the uncomfortable political second-guessing presently attending the preparation of answers to the ingenuous-looking questions posed by the Dearing committee.) But it does mean that there is a tendency for debate to happen first on the other side of the ocean.

So it's especially gratifying to kick this issue off with a powerful contribution from just this international perspective. Judy Hallett's article on graduate education in the US began life in the 1995 CUCD panel on postgraduate teaching in St Andrews. But as her discussion shrewdly shows, the issues extend far beyond local concerns (well addressed by the two UK contributions, published in last year's Bulletin), and the particular US initiatives here reported, to much larger questions of the structure of the profession both nationally and globally, and ultimately to awkward issues of pedagogic ethics themselves. How far can professional experience be compared across national boundaries? In what ways is our profession really an international one, and are all aspects of academic globalism necessarily a good thing? Above all, what can we (as opposed to government) do to improve the quality of life for the next generation in the profession? As her companion paper on postgraduate "acculturation" shows, we ought to think not only about the external resourcing issues that preoccupy us in the UK, but about internal matters of professional culture over which we do, for once, have some control.

The other thing I'm especially pleased to have in this issue is the trio of papers on University language teaching, which should be compulsory set texts for all involved in the activity. Of all the debate on this topic, a continuing theme of recent Bulletins, the work that has excited me most in recent years is David Langslow's trailblazing experiments in Oxford with new ways of teaching, and of assessing the teachability of, classical languages, drawing on published research and personal expertise in linguistics. But no less galvanising was Barbara Bell's report on the realities of classical language teaching in a range of UK schools; while Anthony Bowen's account of the success of the Cambridge beginners' Greek programme offers a powerful practical paradigm of what can be achieved (as well as of what is needed to achieve it).

Lastly and very much leastly, but still on the subject of language acquisition, a small update on this page last year: Georgia's first word was "damn!" (The views expressed, &c...)

CUCD Bulletin 25 (1996)
© Council of University Classical Departments 1996

Bulletin ContentsCUCD HomeRoyal Holloway Classics Dept