The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

Lisa Frankenstein was released to theaters Feb. 9th and was released to digital platforms Feb. 27.
"Lisa Frankenstein" Review
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The program for SMU Lyric Theatres performance of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, Dallas Texas, Sunday February 18, 2024
Love, loss and laughter
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One class to fool them all

On My Way Out There
 One class to fool them all
One class to fool them all

One class to fool them all

Like “The Lord Of The Rings”? Well then, you’ll probably like the “Lord Of The Rings” literature class that will be taught this fall, thanks to a joint effort by the University of Dallas in Irving, Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Dallas.

Our motto: You won’t learn anything useful, but at least you’ll have fun while you’re here. Give us your money.

I’d be digging myself a deep hole if I started criticizing the English department, the place where I’ve found a temporary home during the last four mostly nomadic years of my academic life. If anybody asked me for a suggestion, I’d probably say, “there’s an awful lot of literature, but not enough theory.”

What do I mean by that? The most important class for an English major to take is critical theory, which should teach you everything you need to know about reading and understanding literature, ever.

I would say that the downfall of much of the rest of the catalogue is that it offers a lot of interesting classes, but not much in the way of important core classes – classes that actually teach you about the English language, reading and writing.

This is obviously not just the case at SMU.

Currently the University of Texas offers a class called “The Linguistics of Tolkien’s Middle Earth,” in which students study the “languages” of Elvish, Orcish and Dwarvish from Tolkien’s “Lord Of The Rings” trilogy. This will (hopefully) inspire them to learn linguistics.

At first I thought the idea was incredibly silly, and you probably can’t blame me. After all, these are made-up languages. While Tolkien may have based them off of all the grammatical rules and sentence structures that real languages follow (I wouldn’t know since I’m more likely to use “Elvish” as an adjective to describe people who eat fried peanut butter sandwiches), they’re still imaginary.

Knowing how to speak them serves no purpose in the real world. Businesses won’t accept Orc-speak as a viable foreign language. And you will never visit a country on Earth where people speak Dwarf. (Unless you’re at a science-fiction convention, in which case you probably know how to speak Klingon and Jabba the Huttese as well. Cheesah beecha wonky Chewbacca!)

But let’s look at this Tolkien language class from another angle. The entire purpose of this class is to use something the students can relate to – pop culture – in the context of a legitimate study of linguistics. And let’s face it, linguistics isn’t the most inspiring thing in the world. What student is going to say he wants to spend his life tracing the origins of words like “ennui” and “drivel?”

Currently the students in the class are learning about Old English runes, and according to The Dallas Morning News, they are enjoying it. Well, that’s as good a place as any to start. If you can teach a teenager how to stencil things into his desk that resemble the covers to Metallica albums, you’ve got him hooked.

But where does the class go on from there? Will students learn about the evolution of real languages? How sentences are built? How English relates to German, Spanish and other languages?

One of the most useful things I learned in the “Origins of the English Language” class I took last year is how you can use the elemental parts of words to understand foreign languages, even if you don’t know how to speak them. I find it hard to believe that the Tolkien “linguistics” class will be able to move beyond rune-writing and memorizing how to shout “One ring to rule them all!” at people you don’t like.

I doubt “The Linguistics of Tolkien’s Middle Earth” will look impressive on an official school transcript. (Neither will a bachelorette degree in Klingon, but you might be able to get one taking an on-line course from “Osric University” for $600. Honestly.)

The conceit of any education is that much of what you learn you either never use or wonder why you bothered paying for in the first place. The trick is trying to balance classes so that they both impart useful knowledge to the student and offer auxiliary information that will help augment that knowledge.

“Linguistics of Tolkien” is a section of a class – not a whole class. Try offering the students a normal linguistics class instead. If I’m wrong about this, may glamhoth strike me firn.

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