Columns by Simon E. Gikandi
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).