Language and Literature

  • G. L. Brook


For reasons that seemed to me adequate at the time, I once tried to translate into Anglo-Saxon the regulations of a university department of English. I then made the salutary discovery that it was difficult to find an Anglo-Saxon word for ‘literature’ that did not also mean ‘language’. The supposed rift between language and literature is one about which much has been heard in universities during the last century, but today there are welcome signs that we are returning to a conception of literature in which language plays an important part. Language is used for a number of purposes, such as conversation, buying a bus ticket or making a will, that have nothing to do with literature, but literature without language is inconceivable. Such a view does not exalt the importance of language at the expense of literature. Painting without pigments is inconceivable, but we are in no doubt about the relative importance of painting and pigments; so far as the register of literature is concerned, language is the material of which literature is made. To the man in the street the picture is different.


Everyday Life Sixteenth Century Figurative Language English Vocabulary Latin Origin 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Robert Graves and Alan Hodge, The Reader over your Shoulder (Cape, 1943), p. 209.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Geoffrey Leech, A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry (Longman, 1969) p. 77.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    J. I. M. Stewart, The Gaudy (Gollancz, 1974) ch. 1.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Winifred Nowottny, The Language Poets Use (Athlone Press, 1962) p. 67.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, edited by J. B. Bury (Methuen, 1897) vol. i, p. 337.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    George Mikes, How to be an Alien (Andre Deutsch, 1946) pp. 39–40.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Philip Howard, Weasel Words (Hamish Hamilton, 1978) p. 98.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Max Beerbohm, in More (1899).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    A. C. Baugh, A History of the English Language (Routledge, 1951) p. 284.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Ben Jonson, Discoveries (1641) — edited by G. B. Harrison (Bodley Head Quartos, 1923) p. 70.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    George H. McKnight, English Words and their Background (New York: Appleton, 1923) p. 396.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Stella Brook, The Language of the Book of Common Prayer (Andre Deutsch, 1965) p. 133.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Sir Ernest Gowers, The Complete Plain Words (Penguin, 1962) p. 20.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    See Albert C. Baugh, A History of the English Language (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951) p. 283.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    J. A. Sheard, The Words We Use (Andre Deutsch, 1954) p. 296.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© G. L. Brook 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. L. Brook
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ManchesterUK

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