Dissertation: Learning the Language: International, national & local dimensions of regional-language education in Estonia

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed Apr 25 17:14:27 UTC 2007

Dissertation Title: Learning the Language: International, national & local
dimensions of regional-language education in Estonia
Author: Kara Brown

Dissertation Director:
Robert Arnove
William Fierman
Bradley Levinson
Toivo Raun
Margaret Sutton

Dissertation Abstract:

In the past twenty years, two important developments in language policy
have unfolded that may mitigate minority and regional language loss.
First, international organizations have adopted frameworks, conventions
and charters to protect languages. Second, formal education programs have
expanded and improved to facilitate the instruction of lesser-used
languages in schools. Vro, a regional language in southeastern Estonia, is
touched by both of these global trends.

In order to explore the dynamics of these two new developments in language
policy and schooling, I conducted a multi-sited ethnography of the
Vro-language education project as a whole. I focused my work on both the
Vro Institute (VI) language activists and the local teachers who were
committed to ensuring a future for the Vro language. The language market
and linguistic world-systems theories helped to frame my research, which
was guided by two fundamental questions: (1) How do the teachers and VI
language activists negotiate the international, national and local policy
terrain in their quest to promote regional language through formal
education? (2) How are the meanings of language and culture negotiated
across the policy and schooling contexts?

As a result of my dissertation research, I conclude that the language
market and the linguistic world-systems theories, by stressing that
economic systems primarily influence language development and choice, have
failed to address the crucial cultural context of lesser-used languages.
In examining regional-language policy and education, I found an
unfortunate paradox in the latest global and national attempts to protect
and develop such languages: the very policies that are designed to promote
the regional language are inadvertently undermining it in the educational
sphere. The global, national and regional understandings of the key
concepts of 'culture,' 'identity,' 'authority' and 'allegiance,' while
varying, align in powerful ways to shape these policies. The consequences
of this development have expressed themselves most clearly at the national
level where, in Estonia, regional-language education is guided by an ad
hoc 'policy of programs.' This policy consists of a series of short-term,
state-funded programs which replace a comprehensive policy that might
articulate a clearer role for the judical protection of regional-language



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