Mary Louise Pratt is an emeritus professor at New York University, where before retirement she was Silver Professor and Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literatures. She studied at the University of Toronto, the University of Illinois-Urbana, and Stanford University. Her research has contributed greatly to our understanding of literary narratives and the “contact zone” between cultures. She is the author of numerous articles and books, including her most well-known, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (1992). Pratt has received numerous awards, including an honorable mention for the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell Prize, the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching at Stanford University, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

In her lecture, Pratt sought to rectify the absence of language as a category of analysis in the study of globalization. Global processes, she said, were determined by language at every turn. She discussed this with reference to migration, language disappearance, world scenarios, and translingual poetics. Migration, Pratt suggested, could be seen as a redistribution of linguistic competences because when people move, their languages move with them. Pratt also discussed UNESCO’s definition of language as the intangible heritage of all humanity. Planetary-scale institutions, she continued, needed to be thought about linguistically. summits and organizations involve the co-presence of dozens of languages and are only brought into being by the existence of translation or lingua francas. It was the elasticity of comprehension – the fact that we can understand more of a language than we can say that made both interpretation and lingua francas possible. The innovativeness of comprehension held the world together, and apart (through accents and dialects), at the same time. Pratt ended by discussing what she called translingual poetics, cultural texts where more than one linguistic system operates at the same time. This was not new, but linguistic hosting and grafting had become an aesthetic value and were proliferating in new ways. She gave the example of bilingual radio, which became stylish at the turn of the 21st century. She compared this to the use of language as an instrument of warfare in recent decades. In the question and answer period, she discussed the study of translation and the increasingly prominent idea that reading in translation is equivalent to reading the original, and the development of email hybrid languages among diasporic communities.

Listen to a recording of Pratt’s lecture below.

Listen to Mary Louise Pratt’s Dunning Trust lecture.