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What role can higher education play in language revitalisation initiatives?

Mcpake, Joanna (2014) What role can higher education play in language revitalisation initiatives? In: The Multilingual University: Linguistic diversity in higher education in English - dominant and English Medium Instructional contexts: BAAL/CUP Seminar, 2014-07-04 - 2014-07-04, Institute of Education.

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Attention to the role of education in language revitalistion projects focuses largely on pre-school, primary and secondary provision. Higher education has been less prominent, with limited policy or research discussion of current or possible future provision. This presentation, based on recent research and development work by the author and colleagues at the Universities of Strathclyde and Edinburgh, takes the case of Gaelic in Scottish higher education to illustrate the challenges and to assess the impact of current initiatives. The five Scottish universities currently offering undergraduate and postgraduate courses with Gaelic as the subject of study or as a medium of instruction face difficulties – growing as the language continues to decline – in finding fluent Gaelic speakers to teach at higher education level. There is a need for corpus development and the production of academic texts in Gaelic to support student acquisition of new terminology and academic expression. However, monolingual English-speaking staff often assume that the curriculum, the resources and the expected outcomes of courses should be identical to those for anglophone students. The question of possible cultural differences between Gaelic-speakers’ and English-speakers’ world views is rarely acknowledged; nor are the greater demands on students who choose to work through Gaelic, given their more limited opportunities to develop academic literacy. More broadly, there are issues about the visibility and the public use of Gaelic in the universities where the language is taught: such as bilingual signage, Gaelic language webpages, the employment of administrative staff who can speak the language, and opportunities for staff and students who wish to develop their Gaelic language skills. The requirement by Bòrd na Gaìdhlig, the national body charged with promoting Gaelic, that publicly-funded institutions produce five-year Gaelic development plans has raised awareness in Scottish universities and prompted some innovative responses. The paper considers their impact to date, and the potential for higher education to become a more proactive player in the project to revitalise Gaelic.