Friday, 3 October 2014

Calgary News 1: The conference

From 1 to 8 September, I spent a great week in Calgary, Canada. I attended the Multidisciplinary Approaches in Language Policy and Planning conference, organized by the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. The conference was very rich in topics and it was especially nice that not only linguists but scholars from political sciences or philosophy also contributed to the discussions. The atmosphere was friendly as there were less than a hundred participants (around seventy, I guess) so it was easy to contact people. Another thing what made this visit so special is that it was my first time in the American continent so I had many new cultural experiences... In this part, I'll write about the conference, and you will soon find another post about my impressions on Calgary and the Rocky Mountains.

Calgary Downtown and Bow River: a nice walk on a cloudy afternoon

Supporting language rights in a culturally and linguistically diverse world was a key topic of the conference. The first plenary speaker, Fernand de Varennes defined language rights as human rights. But how to support the use of so many languages for all? It seems to be practical to standardize the languages in order to provide centralized services such as education or healthcare, but who decides on the standard? This was the topic of Milena Pandy's talk: she focused on the case of the Romani languages in the EU. Maintaining diversity is one of the EU's main disciplines but, for example, in order to negotiate with the Romani leaders on the services provided in Romani languages, the EU wants established standard languages – and here comes a problem because standardization always restricts and limits diversity, and not every community wants to pay this price for 'saving' or 'promoting' their language... The joint paper of Dave Sayers & Petra Lánczos also highlighted this ambivalent question, presenting the cases of Cornish and Welsh as representative examples. The base of the legal recognition of many spoken languages is that they function as hereditary languages in many communities. But what about sign languages? Only about 5% of the Deaf people has Deaf parents so sign languages cannot be, in general, considered as hereditary languages. This is one of the reasons why the recognition of sign languages is quite difficult, according to Maartje De Meulder's research.

I could find papers that were related not only to my research fields but to my personal experiences, too. For example, Josep Soler-Carbonell and Erza Björkman talked about the presence of English in Estonian and Swedish universities. As I'm the part of the international staff in Jyväskylä, I sometimes have the feeling of being in an 'English bubble' and it was interesting for me to learn how others try to manage this situation.

We were in Canada so it's not surprising that the situation of French was a central topic. There were papers about, among others, the role of French in school policies (Karla Marie Culligan & Joseph Eugene Dicks; Renée Bourgoin & Joseph Dicks). One main suggestion of these papers was that forcing monolingual French interaction during the lessons is not realistic nor beneficial in the immersion programs. The second plenary, Eve Haque emphasized that instead of speaking about the quite artificial ideal of an English-French bilingual Canada, a more suitable model would be to support multilingualism at every level. Thus, official policies would meet the everyday reality as practically all immigrant groups acquired and use multilingual repertoires. From this point of view, it was exciting for me that during watching the T.V. in my hotel room, I quite often found advertisements promoting the Québecian idea of monolingual French working environments. You can find a couple of these ads on Youtube:

I'm a member of the Termini Hungarian Research Network which accepts  a pluricentic approach of the Hungarian language so Leigh Oakes' paper was especially exciting for me. He investigated the status and the use of France-French and Québec-French, analyzing, for example such initiatives as the Usito dictionary which includes francismes and québecismes and, at an ideological level, represents the idea that there is no one single French standard. It's similar to the main concept of the Termini Network's online dictionary since this Hungarian source also includes and labels Hungarian words and expressions from Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria. From this point of view, Québec-French or, for example, Slovakian-Hungarian are not 'distorted' or 'erroneous': they are parts of the linguistic resources labeled in general as French or Hungarian, and they are linked to many 'common French' or 'common Hungarian' linguistic elements in interactions, but, at the same time, they make a difference and index local identities.

My presentation was about teachers' and students' accounts on their classroom interaction practices. I chose my examples from three quite different schools, analyzing how the teachers portray their students and the students themselves: are they active, agentive persons or just passive patients who are dominated by the teacher? I found that the teachers created at least three kinds of images: (1) passive-receptive students who do what the teachers ask them to do; (2) collaborating students who participate in activities which are led by the teacher; (3) independent students who can investigate and explore their field of study in groups, with a minimal assistance from the teacher's part. The students, in a way, reflected on themselves in a similar manner; however, in the third school, they made some critical comments, saying that their thoughts are quite obviously shepherded towards the teacher's preferences, but still, they feel themselves quite fine and free. The first examples came from a school which is full of poor students; the second school was average according to the teacher, and the third teacher worked in an élite school which is a favorite choice of highly educated parents. I think it's quite shocking that we can find differences in the teachers' approaches according to the students' socio-economic background. This difference is, I think, not by accident: the Hungarian school system is highly selective and provides services at different quality levels for various social groups.

My paper was part of a nice session on school policies in different contexts: Joanna Marie Duggan explored Spanish secondary students' views on minority languages and Lucia Taylor presented some tricky issues in French higher education. Nelly Sierra was in another session, but her presentation was also connected to my field: she presented Colombian teachers' experiences with in-service education programs which promoted the acquisition of higher proficiency in English. The session I chaired the previous day was a nice overview on language policies in a US context (with Jeff Bale, Kathryn D. Stemper and Crissa Stephens).

I was happy to find some other delicious papers as Łukasz Sommer's study on the nation-branding ideologies and practices of Estonia, a thought-provoking essay on solidarity, linguistic justice and ethics by Yael Peled and a linguistic landscape-based overview on Texas and Java by Brendan H. O'Connor & Lauren Renée Zentz. In the second part of my Calgary News, I will write about my own linguistic landscape experiences with Canada – stay tuned! Update: now you can read the post on the linguistic landscape of Calgary and much more!

6 September 2014. Authoritative and democratic educational policies in Hungary: An analysis of teachers’ and students’ narratives. Multidisciplinary Approaches in Language Policy and Planning conference, Calgary, Canada (Alberta).

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