The languages of universities

Issues of policy on languages, at universities in Europe. For some people, especially students and staff at English universities, these issues may seem "new". In fact they were always present: a changing Europe makes them more visible.

the language of teaching
the language of course material
library acquisition policy
equal treatment of speakers
access to journals and conferences
language of publication


the language of teaching

University education in Europe is given in a limited number of official national languages. In countries with a federal structure, or regional autonomy, it is given in the regional language. In addition there are universities that teach in a language from outside the nation/region: in most cases in English. (German-language higher education in eastern Europe, for instance, disappeared after 1945). Similarly, within each university, if a course is given in a non-national language, that is almost always English. Universities in England are the only fully monolingual universities in Europe. (British universities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are partly bilingual). In the EU, language is an area reserved to national policy, although some minority languages are protected by European and international instruments. There is no legal status anywhere, for multilingualism as such.
Should multilingualism be enforced as a goal in itself?
Should entirely monolingual higher education be effectively forbidden (or left to the private sector)?
Should all European languages be given the protected status, given to some minority languages?
Should courses offered in one language be given in parallel, in other languages?
Should all courses be given in a fixed minimum of languages?
Should international courses especially, be multilingual, or available in parallel versions?
Should there be a maximum on the share of English-language courses?
Should visiting staff be required to speak a minimum of European languages?
the language of course material

The content of courses (books, articles, instructions, manuals, software, databases) has a generally bilingual pattern, except in England. The smaller the teaching language, the more material in other languages. The second language is either the national language, or English. The long-term trend is to have all material in English, as at Dutch universities, in some disciplines. There, Dutch is used for lectures and seminars only (and then only if there are no foreign students). In all countries there is a general pattern that software is in English only, also indicating a long-term trend.
Should students have a right to course material in their native language?
Should students have a right to use multilingual material?
Should students have a right to use (multilingual) material in EU languages?
Aside from the claims of students, should course content and material be multilingual, as a general policy?
Is bilingualism of material (teaching language plus English) an acceptable substitute for multilingualism?
Should compiled works (readers, collections) be multilingual?
Are monolingual (English) works, excluding EU content, acceptable in the EU?
Should software be multilingual?
Does EU policy, on a multilingual information society, also apply to academic software and academic computing centres?
Should course information (folders, syllabus, guides, websites) be multilingual?
library acquisition policy

Again the general trend is to bilingual libraries: language of teaching, plus English. As funds for acquisition of books (and journal subscriptions) are cut, priority goes to "major international texts and journals". These are usually in English. In England itself, academic libraries are often monolingual.
Is justice applicable between languages?
Are there moral obligations of equal acquisition, across languages?
Is there, in any case, a moral preference for multilingual libraries?
Should libraries give preference in acquisition, to multilingual works?
Should all EU languages be given equal library acquisition status with English, in the EU?
Should libraries in the EU give preference in acquisition, to EU languages, or to all European languages?
Should there be a maximum on English-language acquisitions?
If a library refuses to supply a work in an official EU language, is that contrary to European law?
Can a monolingual library be prosecuted under national law, for criminal discrimination?
equal treatment of speakers

Probably, most of the world's students use a language which is not their native language or dialect. British and US-American students can study in their own countries, and globally, in a standard English close to their native dialect: an extremely privileged group.
Should all students be obliged, as a matter of justice, to use a non-native language as part of their university study?
Should English-language students, specifically, be excluded from English-language international courses, to prevent unfair advantage?
Should the number of languages of teaching be greatly increased, to include also non-standard dialects?
Is an examination just or fair, if one student can use a native language, while others must use their fourth or fifth language?
Are migrants (English speakers excepted) systematically disadvantaged at European universities?
Is it just to give protected status (including education facilities) to some minority languages, but not to others?
access to journals and conferences

Issues of justice between speakers, arise also in selection procedures, for journals and conferences. The dominance of English-language publishing is well known. Less obvious is that publishers are also disproportionately located in English-speaking countries. English-language journals also, inevitably have editors and advisors who speak, read and write good academic English. It is not as easy to trace the language of conferences, but English is certainly the dominant language of conferences. A bilingual conference is usually in the teaching language of the host university, plus English. Organisers often require papers in English, even if most of those present understand other languages.
The basic issue: is it legitimate for a journal to refuse an article on grounds of language?
Is this refusal discriminatory, and possibly a criminal offence?
Is this refusal morally equivalent to racism?
Should journals, published in the EU, be obliged to accept submissions in all EU official languages?
Is refusal of an article in French by a British journal, for instance, contrary to European law?
Should there be quotas by native language, for journal editors, editorial boards, advisors and reviewers?
Is it acceptable for a journal to refuse a person as editor/advisor, on grounds of language?
Is a requirement to use one language for conference papers legitimate?
Is lack of funds for translation a legitimate reason to limit conference languages?
Should the EU fund monolingual conferences?
Should a minimum number of EU languages be legally required at non-local conferences?
Are existing conference language restrictions contrary to European law?
the language of publication

The long-term trend in journals is, once again, a combination of a dominant global publishing language (English), combined with limited-area journals in official national languages. In effect this fixes the language of contact as English. Multilingual journals are rare.
Should the EU enforce (or subsidise) multilingual journals, or parallel publication?
Is it acceptable to publish results of EU-funded research, in English only?
Should research funds, in general, be conditional on multilingual publication?
Is there a general moral obligation to multilingual publication?
Does legal protection of minority languages bind journal publishers to some publication in these languages?

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