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Minor languages hit hard by new directive

Languages less spoken such as Latin, Greek and Polish will be hit hard, say critics, as the Ministry of Science changes its funding

University administrators are scratching their heads reading and re-reading new requirements from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. Languages such as Greek, Latin and and Polish may see a notable shift in the curriculum they can offer, as a result of a revision of their government funding, that has some languages winning and some losing.

As the rules stand, languages with low enrolment, considered small languages, receive funding directly from the Ministry. Larger languages, such as German and French, are funded directly via the university. However, if a smaller language is taught at more than one university in Denmark, the ministry will after its revision no longer consider it a small language, and eliminate its funds for the programme.

Professor Kirsten Refsing, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities recently explained the consequences for the University of Copenhagen in the University World News.

If the revision goes through, some of the small languages at the University of Copenhagen will no longer have their own degrees, but will be part of a broader language degree with the option to subsequently specialise in that one small language, she explains. The change to being part of a broader degree will relax the subject’s grammar and linguistics requirements.

Threat to cultural ties

The decision is opposed by affected lecturers and students. Other critics see divestments from foreign languages a mistake for a country already under fire for culture intolerance.

For instance, Polish is currently considered a smaller language, but is taught at both the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University. Should the revision go through, the Polish programme would only be funded at only one of the universities. Many critics say this would severely damage Denmark’s cultural ties with Polish immigrants in Denmark. The same is true with other languages such as Arabic, which reaches out to the cultural ties with Middle Eastern immigrants in Denmark.

»The Danish environment for the teaching of foreign languages has many shortcomings, not only in universities, and I consider this a threat to Denmark’s future,« Refsing says.

‘Dangerous’ consequences

The deans of the universities are now suggesting changes based on the funds available – and many of these suggestions have not been received well.

»Diversity is far from respected in the plans to cut back,« says Christian Troelsgård, a Greek and Latin lecturer, to the University Post. The deans’ suggestion to only teach practical language skills, instead of linguistics and grammar, will deprive students of the skills they need to become knowledgeable scholars and teachers.

»If you try to change something you have to start somewhere, but it’s not at all clear what would be gained from this change,« Troelsgård added. »If the intention is to reduce the curriculum and only offer the education at a lower level, the results will be dangerous.«

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