HSE’s New Master’s Programme: Training Specialists in Language Policy
Denis Zubalov, Programme Academic Supervisor, Language Policy in the Context of Ethnocultural Diversity » / © Mikhail Dimitriev
The first intake into this new Master’s programme will be in 2018 and its graduates will be able to work in the field of language policy. Denis Zubalov, Academic Supervisor of the programme ‘Language Policy in the Context of Ethnocultural Diversity’, told the HSE News Service all about what students will be studying, how urbanization is linked to language policy and what killer languages are.
What’s the Point of Language Policy?
There are about 200 governments the world over, and about 7000 languages and language varieties. Linguistic diversity exists everywhere, and, even though many governments try to promote one official language, it is imperative to consider the linguistic rights of people of all nationalities. Everyone has a right to speak their own native language.
In countries where the population is made up of people of different nationalities, an important issue arises: how can we ensure the rights of minority groups, where the language spoken at home is different to the official language, and at the same time, help these groups to develop and preserve their ethnocultural and linguistic identity?
As a result of contact between ethnocultural groups, the world has become a very diverse place, including linguistically. This has led to various problems and the regulation of these different languages is necessary, particularly in the field of education. Many children arrive in a new country or linguistic region and they need to go to school and to get an education. The UN has stated that everyone should have access to equal education opportunities and that everyone should have the right to obtain an education in their native language – however this is not the case everywhere. Another major concern is the integration of economic migrants who don’t speak the language in the country where they work. Linguistic policy deals with these questions, and many others.
More About the Programme
Professor Mira Bergelson and I developed the Master’s programme, ‘Language Policy in the Context of Ethnocultural Diversity’ together, and it has been designed to deal with the issues that need to be studied. It trains specialists to work with cultural-linguistic policy and to develop policies for governments, educational institutions and organizations dealing with intercultural dialogue, as well as commercial companies, whose products are aimed at the various language groups inhabiting a country. We will examine how decisions are made and discuss issues such as linguistic prestige and status, as well as how linguistic behaviour influences one’s cultural, ethnic and religious self-identification.
We want to introduce our students to the issue of linguistic planning, not only as it stands in the Russian Federation and its regions, but all over the world. In the unit ‘Language and Globalization’, we will look at a global context and compare examples of successful and not-so-successful linguistic policies and practices. As I mentioned, several countries are trying to promote one official language. In this way, the governments of these countries are acting to serve their own interests and they are trying to support the effective integration of inhabitants. However, this also results in a loss of linguistic diversity. Languages are dying and, as linguist, David Crystal, explains, within 100 years more than half the languages will disappear completely or become obsolete. According to some, this figure could be as high as 90%. In addition, we have ‘killer languages’, as they are referred to by linguists, such as English, which push other languages to the periphery.
The world is changing quickly in terms of urbanization. According to an estimate by the UN, in 2014, the majority of the world’s population was residing in cities. Our programme deals with this reality. My colleagues and I are participating in a major project run by RAS which is entitled, ‘Languages of Moscow’, and considers issues such as polyculturalism and multilingualism, against the backdrop of the city. Our students will also have the opportunity to get involved in this work and enhance their knowledge of the city linguistics, carry out research and present their results at round tables and conferences which we host together with our colleagues from RAS as part of this project. Vlada Baranova, who researches the city’s linguistic landscape, will teach the course on urban linguistics at HSE.
Another major topic that the programme will examine is related to the post-soviet regions. There is a lot of interest in this topic, not only in Russia, but all over the world. The USSR created a state that was made up of many nationalities, but that promoted one ideology and one set of goals. Russian was the language that played the major role. The collapse of the USSR had significant consequences, not only in terms of politics and economics, but also socially and demographically. A large number of ethnic groups, for example, Germans, Greeks, Jews and even Russians, emigrated to countries where Russian isn’t spoken, but these people are united by Russian and Russian culture. For this reason, it’s important to understand how language policy can help Russian-speaking diasporas abroad to preserve the language and to pass on this cultural capital to the next generation.
The collapse of the Soviet Union occurred quite quickly, and it turned out that its member states were unprepared for this turn of events. Understandably, these governments are trying to introduce language policy to promote their national languages. This is important in order to form a nation and a national identity, but a number of problems arise related to education, the linguistic rights of minorities, and much more. We will look at all this in the programme.
Who Are Our Students?
The programme is interdisciplinary and the issues around language policy and language planning will be considered from various standpoints, including the sociopolitical sciences, cultural studies, education and, of course, sociolinguistics. Our students will come from a range of bachelor's programmes. You don’t have to be a linguist or philologist, as we don’t study the languages and their structure, but rather their functioning in society.
For students who are not familiar with sociolinguistics and who come from very different areas, there is a special bridging course, ‘Language and Society’, in which students will gain an understanding of the main theoretical problems and concepts that we will deal with. They will study how society affects the use of language, the linguistic behavior of men and women, of the older and younger generations, and of people living in urban and rural areas. Students will look at who, when and with whom languages are spoken.
The programme is bilingual. So, about half of the courses will be taught in Russian, and the other half in English. Therefore, our students need to have strong English and Russian skills. We will be working with outstanding scientists from leading European universities, including Essex University and University of Warwick in the UK, and European University Cyprus. We also plan to start collaborating with Durham University.
The programme is open to foreign applicants who can apply online. Deadline for tuition-free admissions is February 28, 2018. Regular admissions deadline is July 15, 2018. More information about international admissions is available on International Admissions site.