Cornell English Department votes to change name to "Department of Literatures In English"

Originally published at:


While I agree with the decision, the name is a bit clunky. Why not “Department of English-Language Literatures”, which flows better?


(corrected, oops)
I was an English major.
I get why, but did anyone run through the unintentional humor here of potential acronyms?

Cornell’s acronym for the re-named entity ends up looking like… DoLiE. Uh, “Do Lie”?

At least DoELL sounds a little less problematic.

Aye carumba.

ETA: sloppy coding, sorry y’all, I’ll make a cup of coffee now…


It’s the type of awkward yet technically correct structure up with which they should not put.


Unfortunately, while more accurate, this destroys John Mulaney’s joke that he spent over $100K to major in a language which he already spoke.


I am slightly confused about literature having a plural. I thought there is one concept called “literature” which means all written works.

Introducing several literatures, sounds backwards to me. Are some literatures better than others even if they are all in English?


You don’t think it is a coherent thing to talk about “The literature of The American South” or “The literature of Southern Asia in English”? If those are grammatical, could you have a sentence like “I am comparing and contrasting the literatures of The American South and Southern Asia in English?”


Maybe as a nod to this:


Depending on how one defines that term, yep.




lol it is obviously a terrible name. and 75% of an ivy league faculty voted for it.


It does seem to suggest that their approach is not going to be the study of a diverse body of literature in a global language, but instead to balkanise the field into competing, siloed sub-fields, which does not seem like a promising development.

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Nope. Still confused :frowning:

I can certainly compare works from two different regions/authors/etc. … even comparing some aggregated ideas over two sets of works … but that doesn’t make it two different literatures…

Yup! That’s exactly the feeling I got :slight_smile:

It’s academic culture to pluralize words to sound more fancy. There are likely numerous technical reasons - but the main one is just the culture of ‘elevated’ academic speak.



So sentences like “I study the literature of the American South” or “I study the literature of 17th Century France” are ungrammatical to you?


Traditionally, the “English Department” has been the home of a family of language-related fields, including literature, linguistics, rhetoric, and writing. The literary end was (not surprisingly) Anglophone (which included translated works), with “foreign language” departments handling literature in other languages.

In larger (or more fractious) institutions, some of these fields split off to become separate departments (linguistics was fractious even when I was in grad school a half-century ago), just as clinical and research psych fractions often go their own ways.

The rebranding of Cornell’s department strikes me as just that: a kind of cultural marketing move. A more accurate relabelling (which would not necessarily change anything about the actual curriculum) might be “Department of Anglophone Literature.” Or, if one wants to emphasize the divides rather than the commonalities of the objects studied, “Literatures.”

There are times when I don’t miss the academic life at all. This is one of them.

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I’ve always been curious about the naming of English Departments and also with classes dubbed as English courses when for the most part they were Literature courses and departments. Part of my questioning on the semantics was that the school i went to in Venezuela had Castilian as my early language classes but when we got to High School they were labeled as Literature because we were no longer studying the language but studying works within the language.

I presume some people might see these changes as dumb, liberal changes but to me the semantics make sense.


Yes, “literature” can be used to mean a body of writing from one group of writers, so when it’s used to talk about the body of writing from more than one group it is always made into a plural with the addition of “s”. As in “the literatures of France and Spain”.

Everyone will still call it the English department. Perhaps “English Literatures Dept” would have worked better in the long run - three words, simple meaning. And when those unfamiliar with that use of “literature” ask about the plural, they’d learn something.


My thoughts on the matter are mostly covered in the first 10 seconds of this clip:

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I understand what you say. No, they are not ungrammatical to me. But they mean:

“I study the subset of literature stemming from / are about the American South”

Two subsets of something are not that something.