Programme PhD and young scholars forum 24th of May

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Written by: Christopher Houtkamp

On the 11th of May, the MIME consortium in Amsterdam invited Ruud Koopmans, Professor of Sociology and Migration at the Humboldt Universität in Berlin, for a small-scale brainstorm session on the connection between language and integration of minorities. The session was particularly interesting, because Koopmans treats language in a considerably different way than most members of the MIME-consortium.  His approach becomes apparent when reading his forthcoming article ‘Does Assimilation Work? Socio-Cultural Determinants of Labour Market Participation of European Muslims’. In this study language proficiency is one of the factors used to explain labour market success of immigrants. In other words: Koopmans focusses predominantly on the instrumental value of language for success in other areas, rather than on its intrinsic and/or cultural value.

Koopmans argues in favour of the assimilation of immigrants, also from a linguistic perspective. Knowledge of the language of the host-society (e.g., German, Dutch) has a strong positive effect on labour-market success. In contrast, knowledge of the mother-tongue has either no or even a slight negative impact. It has to be noted that Koopmans’ concept of ‘assimilation’ does not necessarily imply that minorities have to forsake their own cultural identity. He envisions that immigrants should at least fully adopt the language of the host-society, which should always be their first priority. However, after having achieved this, there is no reason for them not to foster their own mother-tongue, even in education. He makes an exception where it concerns primary school children: since they more often than not only speak their mother tongue at home, the focus of the formal education system should lie exclusively on the host-society language. In fact, migrant-parents should also be encouraged to speak the host-society language at home: otherwise the children run the risk of not mastering this language at all, which will hurt their labour-market chances in the later stages of their lives.

The audience made a few remarks to Koopmans’ perspective that are worth mentioning. First of all, Koopmans’ research seems to barely account for developments of transnationalism, which can fundamentally impact the willingness and capability of migrants to assimilate in their host-societies. Furthermore, in such a transnational environment, mastery of the mother-tongue can become a bigger asset than it is now: it could facilitate the contact between ethnic peers in different EU-countries (e.g. Turks in the Netherlands and in Germany) and therefore expand the mobility-options of migrants within Europe. Secondly, language has , alongside an economic, also a strong cultural value. In the context of the EU, which prides itself for its ‘unity in diversity’, these cultural aspects might be equally as important as economic considerations.

One of the conclusions that can be drawn after the session was that both Professor Koopmans and the MIME-consortium can learn a lot from each other. Koopmans shows us that when designing a language policy we should certainly not neglect the economic implications our proposals could have. Furthermore, his research proves that assimilation still is the best route to economic success, a conclusion that should give us food for thought. On the other hand, the transnational and cultural aspects of language and integration policy are not prioritised in Koopmans’ work, and for that matter, in the work of many integration scholars. It could potentially be enriching were they to try and implement these factors in their studies. To conclude, the dialogue between Professor Koopmans and MIME Amsterdam was thought-provoking: it showed how much the consortium can benefit from an outsider’s perspective.

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By: Christopher Houtkamp

On 29 and 30 January , MIME-Amsterdam officially launched. To celebrate this fact, several activities were organised. On 29 January, the MIME-researchers welcomed Prof. Dr. Tom Ricento from the University of Calgary for a brainstorming session. Mr. Ricento read the research proposals of PhD candidates Nesrin El Ayadi (WP2) and Christopher Houtkamp (WP1) and engage them with constructive criticisms. Furthermore, the group discussed Ricento’s newest book, ‘Language Policy and Political Economy: English in a global context’.  Ricento expressed his concern for the rising dominance of English on a global scale, which is in particular detrimental for developing countries. English is however the most important language in our current global economic system, making it difficult to halt its expansion. For instance, many universities think about offering all their courses in English: they assume an English curriculum will attract more students and thus more money. Ricento urges everyone to critically reflect upon the role of English in society.

On 30 January, a series of activities was planned as well. In the morning, Clotilde Bonfiglioli (WP2), PhD-candidate at the Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne, presented part of her research for an interested audience. Ms. Bonfiglioli’s research focusses on language policy in the periphery of Brussels, in particular towards non Dutch-speaking population. Brussels is very much a multilingual city and Brussels Capital Region is officially a bilingual region in the Belgian federal system. However, the Brussels suburbs are part of Flanders and these municipality are officially Dutch-speaking. This area is sometimes referred to as the ‘Vlaamse Rand’ (‘Flemish periphery’) to stress its inclusion in Flanders. In these suburbs, Flemish authorities put in place a rather strict pro-Dutch language policy, to the extent that government institutions refuse to accommodate non-Dutch speaking newcomers in their official communication. Ms. Bonfiglioli analyses, among other things, how this Flemish language policy affects the mental disposition of French speakers and other allophones.

In the afternoon MIME was launched formally in the presence of a wider audience in the Senate room, one of the oldest and most beautiful rooms of the University of Amsterdam. Several speakers took the floor. Professor Tom Ricento delivered a key note lecture on the complex questions one should ask when reflecting upon language policy, focusing on the Canadian case. He challenged the audience to rethink their pre-conceptions about seemingly straightforward concepts such as ‘language’ and ‘language policy’ and showed how complex they in fact are. Following Ricento’s lecture, MIME-coordinator Professor François Grin of the University of Geneva gave a general overview of the MIME-project. Subsequently three members of the UvA MIME-group, MIME vice-coordinator Dr. László Marácz (WP1), Dr. Virginie Mamadouh (WP2) and Prof. Dr. Federico Gobbo (WP3) briefly presented their research plans for the next four years. The afternoon was closed by a speech of Andy Klom, Head of the Representation of the European Commission in the Netherlands, who emphasised the importance of a good linguistic education for the European economy. Afterwards, guests and MIME researchers could discuss the MIME research agenda and multlingualism research in general over drinks.

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A new paper, written by UvA PhD-candidate Christopher Houtkamp, has recently been published. It analyses the value of the underused concept ‘motility’ (loosely defined as ‘potential mobility’) when researching links between language (policy) and mobility. The article can be found in the ‘A’dam Multiling 2014’ section.

 

Abstract:

Language in the context of migration is an unexplored concept. This paper takes a first step
towards integrating language into current theories of international mobility. The current state
of migration research will be briefly outlined. Subsequently, the differences between the concepts
‘migration’ and ‘mobility’ will be discussed. Afterwards the notion of ‘motility’, which is
widely used in biology, less so in sociology, will be reviewed. Motility, loosely defined as potential
mobility, proves to be a key-concept when studying the connection between language and
migration. Lastly, some methodological challenges specifically connected to the implications
of motility for international mobility are reviewed. In this article the argument is made that
language skills and policy have a great influence on motility and thus indirectly on mobility.

 

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Written by: Christopher Houtkamp

On the 23th of October 2014, the Humanities faculty of the University of Amsterdam had the pleasure to invite prospective PhD-candidate Sonia Cristofi. Sonia hails from Cyprus, where she studied French language and culture. After having finalised her studies at the University of Montpellier, Sonia worked as a translator for several years and taught ‘French as a second language (FLE)’ at the Alliance Française on Cyprus. However, a combination of keen academic interest and a genuine motivation to ‘save’ her mother-tongue ‘Kypriaka’ from extinction, called her back to academia. Right now, she is trying to obtain a PhD-position under supervision of prof. dr. Federico Gobbo, professor by special appointment of Interlinguistics and Esperanto.

Sonia is thus, as already hinted, writing a PhD-proposal on the role of Kypriaka on Cyprus. As most readers probably already know, Cyprus is de facto divided in two parts. Since the island’s independence in 1960 (Cyprus is a former British colony), some Greek-Cypriots expressed the desire to unify with Greece. Turkish-Cypriots however did not find the prospect of living in Greece appealing.  After a coup by the Greek military Junta in 1974, Turkey invaded the northern part of Cyprus to prevent its unification with Greece. Ever since, Cyprus has only been a unified country in name, a situation which persists until this very day. Despite being very small (approximately 1.2 million inhabitants in 2011), Cyprus can be considered a centre of geopolitical conflict.

Kypriaka (or ‘cypriot-greek’) is the dialect that is spoken by the Cypriot-Greeks, whilst the Cypriot-Turks speak Kıbrıs Türkçesi (Cypriot-Turkish). The island’s official languages are Greek (in the south) and Turkish (in the north), whilst it recognises Armenian and Cypriot-Arabic as minority languages. Cypriot-Greeks represent the vast majority of Cyprus’ population (70%). However, despite the fact that Kypriaka speakers have a numerical advantage on the island itself, their language seems under threat of extinction. We have to emphasise ‘seems’ here, since data on the active use of Kypriaka is scarce. Sonia’s research aims to change this. She wishes to conduct quantitative and qualitative field-work on Cyprus in order to investigate when and how often Cypriots speak Kypriaka. In order words, she wishes to analyse the linguistic reality of Cyprus and determine how much Greek-Cypriots value their mother-tongue. Sonia then wishes to translate her findings into practical policy solutions for the Cypriot-government, hoping that the revival of the dialect will bring the unity of Cyprus a step closer.

The audience expressed a great interest in Sonia’s research-plans and the situation on Cyprus, and proceeded to ask her questions on both topics. After a fruitful discussion, some ideas to improve her plans were suggested. For example, maybe Sonia could not only focus on the usage of Kypriaka on Cyprus itself, but also look at the linguistic reality of diaspora communities. Analysing the differences between these two groups could yield interesting results. Furthermore, she was advised to handle the sensitive geopolitical situation with great care, especially when presenting her policy solutions. Language-policy is almost always connected to power and geopolitics, especially in a country that is currently being torn apart by two bigger states. This political reality makes Cyprus a tricky, but at the same time extremely interesting case-study for linguistic scholars. It will be interesting to see how Sonia’s research will develop and what kind of impact it will have on the political situation.

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