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Keywords:

  • philology;
  • culture;
  • language;
  • memory;
  • storytelling

The article presents a hypothesis that seeks to explain the present difficulties of modern languages as playing out the consequences of the demise of philology and the rise of linguistics in its place. While the founding gesture of the latter as a distinct discipline was to exclude cultural and social considerations, the former is an account of the cultural memory of the language. With the demise of philology, modern languages have lost their disciplinary unity, and hence the principle upon which to construct coherent curricula. As a result, they have lost their intellectual authority. The article proposes a revisionist analysis of the philological tradition, divesting it of its essentialist assumptions, and focusing on its methodological principles. It argues that memory (and with it, the emerging field of memory studies) be adopted as a central term in an account of culture fitted to the teaching of modern languages to foreign learners in a world in which memories, just as much as languages, are what we do not predictably share. It makes some suggestions as to how to shape curricula on these principles, insisting that in order to make good on our belief that culture informs language, those curricula should focus selectively and systematically on the discursive arts. Storytelling, from personal to collective, from explicit to implied in political debate, should take a central place in our students' learning; as a result, ‘story listening’ should be central in their intercultural encounters.