University Administration Building, Notre Dame (Inside view)

Recently read: bilingualism, blogging, and authenticity

Last week, I remarked that there were lots of interesting developments going on in higher education at the moment. It seems that I should learn to keep my mouth shut, though. There were a couple of noteworthy developments in the news this week as well: for instance, Springer and Nature are merging, and part-time enrolment is declining in the UK, which is an early indication of how higher tuition fees lead to the exclusion of non-traditional students from Higher education; and in the meanwhile, it seems that firsts are awarded to more and more students, and Scotland seems to be moving towards an ‘accelerated’ three-year degree, both of which seem to be related to efforts to attract more students. But somehow, none of them seemed to hold my interest, which is why this week’s roundup moves away from academics, and reports on stories language policy, career development and authenticity in writing.

When bilingualism is a problem

The Irish Times report on a book titled Analysis of Bilingual Competence: Language Acquisition among Young People in the Gaeltacht, where it is suggested that for speakers in Gaeltacht regions (i.e. regions in Ireland where Irish Gaelic is the predominant language), early exposure to English is detrimental. The authors contrast additive bilingualism, i.e., the acquisition of an additional language without detriment to one’s mother language, with subtractive bilingualism. The latter, which appears to be common in the cases of many minority language groups, occurs when then new language displaces the mother tongue. The argument is made that the language policy that favours early exposure to English, coupled with the marginalisation of the Irish-speaking community means that the Irish language is losing access to “the normal social processes to maintain it as a socially relevant and functional community language”. It’s hard to argue against their conclusion:

The dysfunctional aspects of Irish-language acquisition in the Gaeltacht are a linguistic depiction of a broader social process. They mirror the marginalisation of a minority group that is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain its hold even within its traditional districts. […] The issues raised in this book are much deeper than the cultural integrity of Ireland’s “first” – albeit minority – language. They indicate another significant aspect of the crisis in contemporary democracy: real people, real communities, the real needs of young people being inadequately addressed or rendered inconsequential by agencies supposed to serve them.

The findings reported in the book adds to an ongoing debate over the advantages of starting English language education at an early age, and lends empirical credence to the thesis that the spread of English is at the expense of local languages. While there can be no doubt that the young generation in the Gaeltrecht, and elsewhere, are empowered by learning to communicate in a global language, it seems necessary to reflect on whether such a goal can be achieved in ways that are less damaging to the local linguistic ecosystem(s).

Reflecting on 20 years of academic life

I recently came across a very useful blog post by Terry A. Wheeler, where he reflects on things he did well and not-so-well in his academic career. Some of the remarks, such as taking on too much work, failing to delegate, aiming for perfection, and sacrificing personal time in the process are part of a narrative too common in academia, and I am sure they will resonate with many readers. Others, such as resisting the impact game and the temptation to create a large lab are perhaps less intuitive. One noteworthy piece of advice which is useful, in view of scepticism sometimes expressed over online engagement, is the following:

I started this blog early in 2011, initially to publicize the research and people in our lab, but the scope has expanded since then. […] As with all things online, your mileage may vary. BUT, please give some careful thought to your online presence. We are increasingly linked with it, and it’s the easiest way to promote your abilities, make connections, and connect with a very big, very diverse community beyond your own institution or domain. It’s a small investment of time and effort that can yield enormous rewards.

Authenticity in online writing

Speaking of online presence, Inger Mewburn, of the Thesis Whisperer, has published a blog post on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog, where she discusses issues such as establishing an online identity, preserving the authenticity, and setting an appropriate narrative tone. Here’s one particularly useful piece of advice:

Authenticity matters
If I am to play my academic self on the internet, I want that self to be authentic. To be authentic, all my actions on the internet matter because collectively they tell the story of me.  What I say and do, across multiple platforms and in face to face situations, combine to create a sense of presence others can feel. Therefore the way I run my twitter account should be consistent with the way I speak on my blog and reflect my academic character.


Featured image by Dan Dzurisin @ Flickr,  CC BY-NC-ND 

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