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Tonkin Organizes Iceland Conference on University Language Policy
In his role as director of the Center for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems, President Emeritus Humphrey Tonkin headed the organizing committee of an invited symposium recently held at the Árni Magnusson Institute for Icelandic Studies at the University of Iceland, Reykjavik.
The symposium, “Languages and Internationalization in Higher Education: Ideologies, Practices, Alternatives,” dealt with the growing and controversial use of English as a medium of university instruction in non-English-speaking countries. Among the 17 countries represented at the July symposium were nations as diverse as China, Japan, Chile, Kazakhstan, Canada, and Germany. Particular emphasis was placed on the situation in the Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland).
“The use of English in non-English-speaking universities is growing,” commented Tonkin. “While it may be a positive trend in certain respects, it undermines the situation of national languages." It is, he suggested, a result of the increasing competition of universities for fee-paying foreign students, and a by-product of international university rankings, which put a premium on international visibility.
Among leading specialists in language policy at the conference were Rainer Enrique Hamel of Mexico, F. Xavier Vila of the University of Barcelona, Frans Gregersen of the University of Copenhagen, Michele Gazzola of Humboldt University Berlin, and Anna Kristina Hultgren of the UK’s Open University.
The symposium, held under the auspices of the Icelandic Language Council and the Vigdis Finnbogadóttir Institute for Foreign Languages, was funded by the Esperantic Studies Foundation and by John Benjamins Publishers (Amsterdam), which publishes the book series Studies in World Language Problems, edited by Tonkin.