The language tutorial explores the relation of language to thought and imagination, both through the study of the essential elements of language and through the translation and analysis of literary and philosophical texts. The examination of word classes and grammatical features raises questions about the ways language articulates meaning, while the consideration of logical, rhetorical, and poetic structures encourages reflection on the ways it can convince, persuade, and affect us.
Students study two foreign languages: ancient Greek and modern French. They also devote two semesters to the study of English poetry and prose. Although essays are assigned across the curriculum, it is in the language tutorial that students focus most directly on developing their writing. A language tutorial has 13-16 students and meets three times a week.
Freshmen begin by learning the elements of ancient Greek grammar, exploring the ways Greek grammar differs from English, and considering what a comparison of the two grammars may reveal about language in general. The year culminates in the translation and analysis of a substantial portion of Plato’s Meno, a work read in translation in Freshman Seminar. In addition students translate passages from some of their other Seminar readings, such as the Republic and Aristotle’s Ethics and Physics. By the end of the year, freshmen have learned enough Greek to translate with the help of a lexicon and notes. Another important goal of the Freshman Language Tutorial is the improvement of student writing. At least five papers are assigned during the course of the year and students meet individually with their language tutor to discuss ways they can develop their thought and improve syntax, organization, and style.
In the first semester, sophomores translate selections from one of Sophocles’ tragedies or Homer’s epics, and selections from the Septuagint or the Greek New Testament. Through careful translation, students learn to see the subtleties and intricacies of the text. They also reflect on the activity of translation itself. After beginning the second semester of the tutorial with the study of logic, sophomores turn to the study of poetic works in English. Some classes begin by learning to read Chaucer in Middle English to complement the work on Chaucer in Sophomore Seminar. All classes then focus on the study of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English poetry. They consider questions of metrics, poetic technique, and imagery as they begin to develop their own interpretations of these texts. Writing assignments in this tutorial often include a draft of the Sophomore Seminar essay, followed by a paper conference with the language tutor to work on ways of developing the draft.
The study of French extends the inquiry into language in new directions. Juniors soon acquire enough grammar and vocabulary to begin translating and discussing short texts by LaRochefoucauld, Pascal, Descartes, and Rousseau. Through close analysis of works in a language similar to, but not their own, they become more acutely aware of questions of diction, style, rhetoric, and rhythm and of how these features of a text bear on an argument and affect the reader. In the first semester, students focus on prose of great rhetorical and philosophic power. In the second semester students broaden and deepen their understanding of drama by translating and analyzing two great works of French theater: Racine’s Phèdre and Molière’s Misanthrope or Tartuffe.
The Senior Language curriculum focuses strongly on literary uses of language. While readings vary between campuses and from year to year, seniors typically study the poetry of Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and Valéry in the first semester, and nineteenth- and twentieth- century English and American poetry in the second semester. In addition, classes devote time to the study of French and English literary prose, reading a novella by Flaubert or a selection from Proust in the first semester, and at least one twentieth-century English novel in the second – Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying are frequent choices. Many tutors also include some of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction in the second semester readings.