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The title of these remarks would imply a “swan song,” which they are, but perhaps the content should have some such title as “Three Good Men in the Same Boat.”
The Modern Language Association is now seventy-one years old. During approximately one-half of those years—since 1920, to be exact—we have been exceedingly fortunate in having in succession three scholarly executives who have given the major portion of their waking hours to their work as Secretary and Editor: Carleton Brown (1920–34), Percy Long (1935–47), and William R. Parker, who since October 1947 has been Secretary and since 1948 Editor of PMLA.
This is my third annual report as Director of the FL Program. It gives me great pleasure to begin by quoting a resolution passed by the M LA Council at a special meeting held last month: “The Executive Council declares the essential elements of the current Foreign Language Program to be a permanent concern of the Modern Language Association, eventually to be included in the annual budget.” This policy statement looks forward to October 1958, when present foundation support for the Program expires. As most of you know, the Rockefeller Foundation has recently made us a supplementary grant of $115,000, to be spent in the period 1955–58. Expressions of confidence totalling nearly a quarter of a million dollars inspire (to put it mildly) mixed emotions. Not for another quarter of a million would I admit that we are undeserving; but I freely concede that this profession has scarcely begun to spend its own human resources for giving language study a vital role in American education and life.
If I undertake to describe the language program of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Princeton (as distinguished from work in non-European languages done there under other auspices) it is not in the belief that it embodies anything revolutionary or radically different in organization from that of any similar institution. If there is any virtue in such a description it lies rather in our having been able, with only a moderate degree of additional expense and dislocation, to adapt the traditional pattern to meet a reasonable modern standard.
The increasing triumph of man over matter has come about through an understanding facilitated by the awakening of the scientific spirit. At the same time, the application of the scientific method to the study of man and his activities has been slower. Probably all humanists agree with Alexander Pope that “the proper study of mankind is man,” but there is less unanimity as to the proper method to be followed in such study. Still, the social sciences are gradually developing scientific methods of their own, based like nuclear science on statistics and probability.
During recent years language teachers have heard a great many claims about the importance of linguistics in language teaching. It is true that, during the last thirty years or so, many useful and rather exact techniques have been developed for the analysis and description of languages, and along with them have come many new attitudes toward language in general. Some of this must obviously have a bearing on language teaching. Yet when the hard pressed language teacher tries to learn something about this new science of linguistics, he finds it exasperatingly hard to do so. If he asks a linguistics colleague for an opinion on the recent popular books on language (some of which have been real best sellers), he is told that they will give him no idea whatever of what has really been going on in the science. If he asks whether he should read one of the classic books by a linguist, such as Leonard Bloomfield's Language (New York, 1933), he is told that in parts it is excruciatingly hard to read, and that it is out of date anyhow. Having been rebuffed on both points, all but the most heroic language teachers will give the matter up then and there. Linguists will then go on muttering about people who don't want to learn about what they are teaching, and language teachers will go on muttering about people who have a science so extraordinary that it can't be explained to outsiders.