Jason Cenoz & Durk Gorter

Higher education in the Basque Country: revitalization and internationalisation

This keynote will examine the use of Basque and English in higher education. First, some data on the sociolinguistic situation in the Basque Country will be given so as to see the general situation of Basque. According to the sociolinguistic surveys carried out in the last years, the number of speakers of Basque is increasing particularly among young people. Then, the situation of languages in primary and secondary educations in the Basque Autonomous Community will be discussed; highlighting that Basque is increasingly used as the language of instruction.

The main part of the talk will be devoted to the use of Basque and English at the University and to language planning. In fact, the use of minority languages at Higher Education faces special challenges. The University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) is the only public university in the Basque Autonomous Community and since 1980 it has promoted the use of the Basque language. In fact, the number of students who enrol in studies taught through the medium of Basque has increased substantially in the last years. In this lecture we will look at teaching through the medium of Basque and the challenges implied in this process (for example the publication of textbooks and other academic materials, Basque language qualifications for academic and supporting staff, etc). The challenges of using Basque and English for graduate studies and research will also be discussed.

We will look more in detail at two studies of changing modes of communication at the university. First a university course with a multilingual approach, where the teacher uses exclusively English in the classroom, although she is also highly proficient in Basque and Spanish. Students are encouraged to use any of the three languages English, Basque or Spanish, also when they can ask questions, or discuss or when they hand in written tasks. But it is not a language course and the students are not required to produce anything in English. The classroom patterns imply a mode of receptive multilingualism; each participant uses his or her preferred language most of the time. The second study concerns public speeches at university. A number of public speeches by high level authorities in the university context are analyzed. For example, the speech the rector gives at the opening of the academic year. Breaking with the tradition of simultaneous interpretation, more recently there is the alternation of Basque and Spanish and sometimes English. The end result is a speech in two languages each used for about half of the time. The audience is supposed to understand both languages (receptive multilingualism) or will miss parts of what is being said. In the discussion some implications for choice of language will be mentioned. These strategies seem to break social mechanisms to prefer one language in one conversation.

Listen to the keynote here. Mac users please cut and paste link into Google Chrome.