Encounters: Mary Louise Pratt

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Mary Louise Pratt

Monday, March 17th: Globalization and Language 

On Monday, students and faculty filled The Landing for scholar Mary Louise Pratt’s presentation on globalization and language. Pratt first became involved in the research of globalization and language when she felt there was, in her words, “nobody talking about it.” Languages are being lost at a faster rate now than ever before; every two weeks the last speakers of a language die.

There are five elements language learners must have to be successful: time, effort, desire, input, and opportunities to use the language. Lacking any of these is detrimental to maintaining a mastery of a given language. A good example of this can be found in the push for high schoolers to develop proficiency in a foreign language before entering college or the workforce; while the intentions are laudable, what often happens is that students, once beyond the classroom, are left without opportunities to speak the foreign language. As such, their proficiency in that language quickly diminishes.

On another note: Language is subjective; words and meanings count more or less for different people. And this elasticity, that human comprehension is capable of, can become problematic. To clarify, our ability to produce language is smaller than our ability to comprehend it. This creates a complicated dynamic between speaker and listener.

Furthermore, language is becoming murkier because of the production of translingual pieces.  For example, Pratt showed a video of the Bolivian rap group, Ukamau Y Ke, who mix languages in their works—according to Pratt this is a form of linguistic rebellion. Written literatures, compared to these highly transmittable aural forms, are limited because globalization does not increase the number of languages used in literature.

The future of global language is uncertain. But Pratt expressed in this eye-opening presentation the importance of embracing all linguistic forms and mediums—because of this uncertainty.

Wednesday, March 19: Workshop on Translingual Poetry 

Two days later, students and faculty rejoined Mary Louise Pratt for a workshop on translingual poetry. Participants were divided into four groups, and each group analyzed a different poem. For each work the following questions were considered:

  • How are the two languages brought together?
  • By what means are they brought together?
  • What relation is created between them?

This hands-on workshop served as an extension of her presentation on Monday, and it gave participants the opportunity to experience her work for themselves.

For those that may have missed the workshop and want to experience one of Pratt’s activities, continue reading: Click on the hyperlink of comedian George Lopez’s stand-up. Watch it and ask yourselves the following:

  • How many character do you observe?
  • What do the accents, bilingualism, and phonetics communicate?
  • What is the relationship of the two languages?
Mary Louise Pratt

Mary Louise Pratt

Thank you so much Mary Louise Pratt for an insightful and engaging look into globalization, language, and translingual poetry!

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