IU hosting Central Asian language workshop

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue Aug 1 14:37:16 UTC 2006

IU hosting Central Asian language workshop

by Steve Hinnefeld
Hoosier Times
July 30, 2006

BLOOMINGTON - For anyone who wants to learn the languages of Central Asia
and Eastern Europe, Indiana University is a likely destination. Especially
this time of year, when a summer language workshop at IU offers intensive
instruction in almost 20 languages, including Estonian, Pashto, Turkmen
and Uzbek. "Indiana University is the place where people come," said
William Fierman, director of the university's Inner Asian and Uralic
National Resource Center.

It's been that way for a long time. IU established its Central Eurasian
studies department in the 1940s. The center that Fierman directs was
created in 1962 and has received continuous federal funding under Title VI
of the Higher Education Act. Also at IU is the Title VI-funded Center for
the Languages of the Central Asian Region, which develops materials and
promotes the teaching and learning of languages. "We're the only place, as
far as I know, that has a real Uyghur program," Fierman said, referring to
a Turkic language spoken in western China.

The IU programs attract students and scholars year-round, but in summer,
they are joined by people from around the world who come to Bloomington
for eight-week courses at the Summer Workshop in Slavic, East European and
Central Asian Languages. Daily classes are augmented by lectures and
cultural events such as today's Silk Road Bayram.  It's equivalent to a
year. And in a lot of ways, it's better because it's so compressed," said
Chris Baker, an IU graduate student who has studied Kazakh, Uzbek, Turkmen
and Azeri in the summer.

Baker came to IU from California to work on a Ph.D. in Central Asian
history, focusing on Kazakhstan and how the newly independent nation goes
about constructing an ancient past. "The region seemed like it would be
interesting, and Indiana was the only place with a comprehensive program,"
he said. And for someone with an advanced degree, the field offers job
prospects, not only with universities but with the State Department,
intelligence agencies, non-governmental organizations and oil companies.

The demand for Central Asian experts began to grow when the break-up of
the Soviet Union in 1991 created a host of newly independent nations.
Throw in post-9/11 concerns about terrorism, oil wealth, political
instability and a location near China, Russia and Iran, and what was once
one of the most obscure parts of the world became one of the most
strategically important. Fierman studied Chinese and Russian at IU in the
1970s, then got interested in Chinese minority language policy as a
Harvard graduate student and began traveling to Uzbekistan in the 1970s
when "people were asking if that was something out of a Dr. Seuss book."

Now, he said, knowing about the region has become essential to an
effective U.S. foreign policy. "If you don't have people who understand
these languages, you're dead in the water," he said.

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