Claire Kramsch’s Multilingual Subject Honored at MLA Convention

For those in the foreign language teaching profession, a key event of the Modern Language Association’s Annual Convention is the awarding of the Kenneth W. Mildenberger Prize. Given annually for the past thirty years, the Mildenberger Prize is for “an outstanding scholarly book in the fields of language, culture, literacy, or literature with strong application to the teaching of languages other than English”. The list of past winners shows what might rightly be considered an entire syllabus for a course in Applied Linguistics, with books and articles on a wide variety of topics representing many important theoretical and methodological traditions.

It was therefore with a great deal of pride and excitement that the audience at the Presidential Address of the MLA’s recent Annual Convention in Los Angeles witnessed BLC founding director Claire Kramsch receive the Mildenberger Prize for her book, The Multilingual Subject, published in 2009 by Oxford University Press. This was Professor Kramsch’s second time winning the Mildenberger Prize, the first being in 1994 for her book Context and Culture in Language Teaching, published the previous year (also by Oxford University Press).

The Multilingual Subject examines primary texts and testimonials from language learners in order to explore how they, as multilingual subjects, are produced in and through the symbolic power of language. In conferring the Mildenberger Prize, the MLA offered the following statement:

“Memory, emotion, and subjectivity are concepts rarely found in second language acquisition literature. In The Multilingual Subject, Claire Kramsch probes their absence and questions why language learning tends to be viewed in contemporary research exclusively as a cognitive process. In her excellent volume she employs affective, intrapersonal elements as research objects and provides a unique perspective on language learning and language learners. Using the voices of language learners, Kramsch persuades the reader that language learning is not just a utilitarian process but rather one that both affects and inspires personal development. This perspective is sure to influence the dominant research paradigm in foreign language learning for many generations to come.”

For those of us who hail from Berkeley, of course, this award has a special meaning. As a conference attendee, I was lucky enough to be sitting together with a group of current and former students of Claire’s, all of whom are familiar with both the genesis of The Multilingual Subject and its significance for language teachers and theorists.

I asked David Gramling, Katra Byram, and Mike Huffmaster—three recent graduates from Berkeley’s German Department who have advanced to professorships in applied linguistics and language teaching—to share their thoughts on this occasion.

David Gramling, Assistant Professor, Department of German Studies, University of Arizona:

“I remember the first moment I met Claire Kramsch, ten years ago, in the parking lot north of Sproul Hall. Already that day, I had a hunch that I was getting to know a person of extraordinary intellectual courage—a courage replenished, every day, by both a warm-hearted modesty and a humane awareness of history. A decade later, this January, it was one of the most touching moments of my career so far to be present as Claire received the Mildenberger Prize for one of her many groundbreaking contributions to language studies. It was a nothing less than a thrill for me to see Claire encounter such unequivocal and deserved recognition from her peers across the disciplines.”

Katra Byram, Assistant Professor in Germanic Languages and Literatures, The Ohio State University:

“It was great to see Claire, whose impact on the field has been so profound, receive her second Mildenberger prize. And the book earned it for its important turn from the objects of the languages we teach, the methods we use, or the students we assess to the subjects who use, live, and negotiate their identities through those languages.”

Mike Huffmaster, Visiting Professor in Applied Linguistics and German, Marlboro College:

“The Multilingual Subject sheds light on crucial aspects of language learning too-long neglected in the literature and suggests fruitful avenues for future research. Anyone who has ever learned a foreign language can attest to the validity of Claire Kramsch’s argument. The Mildenberger Prize rightly recognizes this work’s important contribution to foreign language studies in the twenty-first century.”

Many thanks to David, Katra, and Mike for these statements, and to Edward Savaria Jr. for the photo featured in this article. We welcome any comments from others on the occasion of this award as well, in the comments field below.

And, once again…Congratulations, Claire!