From the President

Columns by Simon E. Gikandi

Language Matters

In “Politics Lost in Translations,” a recent column in The New York Times, Gail Collins seemed to suggest that foreign languages in America might become an issue in the forthcoming presidential elections. I hope she is right. While the MLA is a nonpartisan organization and hence does not endorse any political position or candidate, a commitment to research and teaching so-called foreign languages has been part of the association’s mandate since its founding in 1883. The association’s objectives, first published in 1884, named this point in the scope of its activities: a central mission of the MLA “shall be the advancement of the study of Modern Languages and their Literatures.” Although the founders of the association probably conceived foreign languages to be primarily European, there is no doubt that the MLA’s charter did not want to limit what qualified as a modern language. Over the years, the number of languages represented by the MLA increased, and when the mission statement was revised in 1990 the range of languages was assumed to be global, and “more and less commonly taught languages,” from English to Uzbek, were given equal standing (History).

The Right to the Humanities

It seems that every new president of the Modern Language Association comes to office in the midst of bad news—bad weather, government shutdowns, debates about immigration, and, of course, the crisis facing our profession. January, not April, would appear to be the cruelest month. Even when the weather is good, as it was in Chicago during the 2019 annual convention, one cannot escape the pall cast over our profession by a dismal job market and the continuing threat to the humanities. In a column published in a January issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jonathan Kramnick provided us with frightening figures on the bad state of the job market, which, he argued, may not have hit bottom yet (B4). In many departments of English, comparative literature, and modern languages, job seekers and placement officers are coming out of the hiring season with grim faces.

From the President

Columns by Anne Ruggles Gere

From the President

Columns by Diana Taylor

When the Resolution Causes the Breach

This past year has been difficult and at times heartbreaking. In addition to the attacks on public education throughout the pre-K–12 system, our universities are under siege. The government is pulling back on its obligation to education, as evidenced most recently when Betsy DeVos argued that “we’ve done a disservice to young people for many years by suggesting that the only path to success as adults is through a four-year college or university” (qtd. in Harris). Several campuses have become the scene of intense struggles to define and defend an open democratic space.

From the President

Columns by K. Anthony Appiah

Taking Issue, Taking Stock

The Modern Language Association of America is a scholarly organization. Is it also a political one? Not in a straightforwardly partisan way: our legal status prohibits us from endorsing candidates for elected office. But on topics that are central to our mission and that we can address in a clear and unified voice, the MLA can make a contribution to the national conversation. Among the issues that the association has been concerned with are the growth of contingent labor and the decline of tenure in higher education; language study as an educational right; and, very broadly, a diminishment in support for the humanities. . . .

From the President

Columns by Roland Greene

Speaking for Interpretation

As our convention in Austin approaches, I’ve been reflecting on our profession as I have observed it from the vantage of president of the world’s largest scholarly organization. My three previous columns noted several of the important initiatives that the MLA has recently begun and will continue. . . .

From the President

Columns by Margaret Ferguson

Tense Conversations

A few weeks ago, my twin teenage daughters gave me a lesson in how to talk to Siri, the female ghost in my new smartphone. “Ask her a question,” said Marianne. I couldn’t think what to ask, so Christina intervened: “Tell her to make a joke.” Seeing that I still didn’t get it, Christina prompted Siri, and she responded with unnerving speed: “Past, Present, and Future met in a bar. It was tense.”

From the President

Columns by Marianne Hirsch

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