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The Role of Literature in Language Education 9

language-literature-culture intersections through negotiation of meaning, lead-


ing to learning achievement and change. The plurality of meanings that even
a single word can assume in an L2 setting with students and educators from
different cultural backgrounds, is magnied. As Vygotsky (1986) wrote, a word
is a microcosm of human consciousness (p. 256) but the link between words,
languages and culture is often invisible (Lo Bianco 2003). If students miss the
link they will not be able to notice that one word can, in literary texts espe-
cially, represent a whole world. If educators make students aware of these links,
literature can be at once a world in a text and words in context.
Yet, the role of L2 literature is continuously questioned or defended. Cook
(1996) refers to the undercurrent of disagreement about the teaching of liter-
ature, which surfaces from time to time in bitter and strongly worded debate
(p. 151). Is literature a dead cause? (Parry 1995, p. 45). The ongoing debate
surrounding literature has certainly not been resolved. The discussion came to
its peak in the 1980s, especially in the eld of English as a Second Language,
although it involved the teaching of all foreign languages. In Australia, the
anti-literature and anti-languages debates were mainly led by economic factors
(Mehigan 1989) and, in the United States, the subsiding of humanistic subjects
was caused by a shift from reading to visual activities and by an emphasis on
vocational studies and xenophobia (Debevec Henning 1993).
Nevertheless, many educators have stressed the importance of using literary
texts because they constitute what is regarded as authentic material in L2
learning. Krashen denes literature by using an economic concept; it is seen as
an efcient vehicle for foreign language acquisition (p. 15). Gajdusek instead
(1988), considers literature an organic whole for cultural analysis, and [. . .]
a non-banal context for composition writing. Two quite different standpoints
are illustrated by the language used in the denitions. Krashen (1985) conveys
the communicative view of literature as a tool for language learning whereas
Gajdusek (1988) takes cultural and rhetorical perspectives and views the text in
its integrity as a means to teach culture and writing. Mitchells (1989) perspective
is broader: literature extends the second language classroom beyond its four
walls and into the community of the target language and culture (p. 74).
The main arguments in favour of L2 literature (summarized above) have
been disputed by Edmondson (1997) because they have no empirical ground-
ing. That may be true, however, there is scant evidence proving that literature
is detrimental either, although it may affect the condence of less procient
students (Bouvet 1998). The major arguments raised against using L2 literature
concern its difculty at the language level and its relevance since literature,
some educators assume, does not include examples of everyday language. Para-
doxically, Italian writers, including Manzoni, wrote in a stile semplice (Testa
1997), a simple style, to expand their audience. Consequently, it is possible for
an intermediate student of Italian to read his novel, I Promessi Sposi, published
in 1827. Conversely, students in 1998 found the youthful, free style of young
writers (e.g., Brizzi 1996) difcult because it included colloquial, regional or
youth expressions. Cultural difculty, another important issue when reading L2