Modern Language Association

Modern Language Association

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The Modern Language Association of America (referred to as the Modern Language Association or MLA) is the principal professional association in the United States for scholars of language and literature. The MLA aims to "strengthen the study and teaching of language and literature." The organization includes 30,000 members in 100 countries, primarily academic scholars
Academia is the community of students and scholars engaged in higher education and research.-Etymology:The word comes from the akademeia in ancient Greece. Outside the city walls of Athens, the gymnasium was made famous by Plato as a center of learning...

, professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

s, and graduate students who study or teach language and literature, including English, other modern languages, and comparative literature
Comparative literature
Comparative literature is an academic field dealing with the literature of two or more different linguistic, cultural or national groups...

. Although founded in the United States, with offices located in New York City, the MLA's membership, concerns, reputation, and influence are international in scope.


The MLA was founded in 1883, as a discussion and advocacy group for the study of literature and modern language
Modern language
A modern language is any human language that is currently in use. The term is used in language education to distinguish between languages which are used for day-to-day communication and dead classical languages such as Latin, Attic Greek, Sanskrit, and Classical Chinese, which are studied for...

s (that is, all but classical language
Classical language
A classical language is a language with a literature that is classical. According to UC Berkeley linguist George L. Hart, it should be ancient, it should be an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own, not as an offshoot of another tradition, and it must have a large and extremely rich...

s, such as ancient Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 and Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

). According to its profile featured by the American Council of Learned Societies
American Council of Learned Societies
The American Council of Learned Societies , founded in 1919, is a private nonprofit federation of seventy scholarly organizations.ACLS is best known as a funder of humanities research through fellowships and grants awards. ACLS Fellowships are designed to permit scholars holding the Ph.D...

 (ACLS), "The Modern Language Association is formed for educational, scientific, literary, and social objects and purposes, and more specifically for the promotion of the academic and scientific study of English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and other so-called modern languages and literatures."

Officers and governance

The officers of the MLA are elected by its members. The president for 2011 is Russell A. Berman
Russell Berman
Russell A. Berman is an American professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature. He is the Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University. He is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the director of Stanford's Introduction to the Humanities program...

, Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University
Stanford University
The Leland Stanford Junior University, commonly referred to as Stanford University or Stanford, is a private research university on an campus located near Palo Alto, California. It is situated in the northwestern Santa Clara Valley on the San Francisco Peninsula, approximately northwest of San...

, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution
Hoover Institution
The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace is a public policy think tank and library founded in 1919 by then future U.S. president, Herbert Hoover, an early alumnus of Stanford....

; the first vice president is Michael Bérubé
Michael Bérubé
Michael Bérubé is the Paterno Family Professor in Literature and Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University, where he teaches cultural studies and American literature...

, Paterno Family Professor in Literature and Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University
Pennsylvania State University
The Pennsylvania State University, commonly referred to as Penn State or PSU, is a public research university with campuses and facilities throughout the state of Pennsylvania, United States. Founded in 1855, the university has a threefold mission of teaching, research, and public service...

, who assumes the MLA presidency in 2012; and the second vice president is Marianne Hirsch, William Peterfield Trent Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 and Professor in the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, who will advance to first vice president in 2012 and to the presidency in 2013.

The MLA is governed by an Executive Council, elected periodically by its members, according to the MLA Constitution (official MLA website).


The MLA publishes several academic journal
Academic journal
An academic journal is a peer-reviewed periodical in which scholarship relating to a particular academic discipline is published. Academic journals serve as forums for the introduction and presentation for scrutiny of new research, and the critique of existing research...

s, including Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (abbreviated as PMLA), one of the most prestigious journals in literary studies, and Profession, which discusses the professional issues faced by teachers of language and literature. The Association also publishes the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, a guide that is geared toward high school and undergraduate students and has sold more than 6,500,000 copies. The MLA Style Manual
The MLA Style Manual
The MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing is the third edition of The MLA Style Manual, first published by the Modern Language Association of America in 1985...

is geared toward graduate students, scholars, and professional writers, and the third edition of this guide was published in May 2008. The MLA produces the print and online database, MLA International Bibliography, the standard bibliography in language and literature.

The MLA's official website features the MLA Language Map, which presents overviews and detailed data from the United States 2000 Census about the locations and numbers of speakers of thirty languages and seven groups of less commonly spoken languages in the United States.

Since 1884 the MLA has held a national, four-day convention from December 27 to December 30. Beginning in 2011, the convention dates moved to the first Thursday following 2 January, and it will continue to be held from Thursday through Sunday. The 2011 convention dates were 6–9 January, held in Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

; the 2012 convention dates are 5–8, to be held in Seattle. Approximately eight to twelve thousand members attend, depending on the location, which alternates among major cities in various regions of the United States. The MLA Annual Convention is the largest and most important of the year for scholars of languages and literature; major university and many smaller college literature and language departments interview candidates for teaching positions at the convention, although hiring occurs all year long.

In addition to its job-placement activities, the convention features about eight hundred sessions, including presentations of papers and panel discussions on diverse topics (special sessions, forums, poetry readings, film presentations, interdisciplinary studies involving art and music, governance meetings) and social events hosted by English and language departments and allied or affiliated organizations. There are also extensive book exhibits located in one of the main hotel or convention center exhibition areas.

In later years the Association has highlighted issues such as race, gender, and class in its professional deliberations. Kimball and Kramer argue that this was part of a "rampant politicization of literary study that the MLA has aggressively supported" in American colleges and universities, including elevating popular culture to a position of parity with great works of literature as subjects for classroom study, and other "radical" postures.

Regional associations

There are several regional associations that are independent of the MLA. These organizations host smaller conventions at other times during the year. These associations are:

See also

  • The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
    The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
    The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers is a publication of the Modern Language Association of America, based on The MLA Style Manual...

  • MLA Style Manual
    The MLA Style Manual
    The MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing is the third edition of The MLA Style Manual, first published by the Modern Language Association of America in 1985...

  • Style guide
    Style guide
    A style guide or style manual is a set of standards for the writing and design of documents, either for general use or for a specific publication, organization or field...

Further reading

  • Barber, Virginia. "The Women's Revolt in the MLA". Change Magazine Apr. 1972. Rpt. in Women on Campus: The Unfinished Liberation. Ed. George W. Bonham. Introd. Elizabeth Janeway. Somerset, NJ: Transaction, 2006. 85-94. ["The Modern Language Association is finally opening its doors to professional women and their demands for reform."]
  • Howe, Florence
    Florence Howe
    Florence Howe, American author, publisher, literary scholar and historian, is understood to be a nationally recognised leader of the contemporary feminist movement....

    , Frederick C. Crews
    Frederick C. Crews
    Frederick Campbell Crews is an award-winning American essayist, literary critic, author, and Professor Emeritus of English at the University of California, Berkeley. He received popular attention for The Pooh Perplex, a book of satirical essays parodying contemporary casebooks...

    , Louis Kampf, Noam Chomsky
    Noam Chomsky
    Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and Professor in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT, where he has worked for over 50 years. Chomsky has been described as the "father of modern linguistics" and...

    , Paul Lauter, and Richard Ohmann. "Reforming the MLA." Letter to the editor. New York Review of Books 19 December 1968. Web. 4 February 2007.
  • Kimball, Roger. Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education. New York: Harper & Row, 1990. Rev. ed. Chicago: Elephant Paperbacks (Ivan R. Dee
    Rowman & Littlefield
    Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group is an independent publishing house founded in 1949. Under several imprints, the company offers scholarly books and journals for the academic market, as well as trade books. The company also owns a book distributor, National Book Network...

    ), 1998. ISBN 1566631955. ISBN 9781566631952. Print.