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Language hierarchy

In this video, Joana Duarte PhD teaches a class at the University of Groningen on Language Hierarchy, where the students create their own.
Look at the languages that I have prepared, in your envelopes, and think about questions like “Which languages do you think are more important within society?” Well, if you are more experienced within the Dutch society, think about the Netherlands. But you might also think about your own contexts, or your own languages. But you have to imagine that you have different languages and that they have different roles, and that they have different relevance in the societies that you are living in. And you have to ask yourself, which languages occupy a higher position, and a lower position, or a position somewhere in the middle?
And then you have to try to organise the languages in a hierarchy of languages, which is, of course, an imagined hierarchy of languages. It’s your own view of how the languages here play a role within society.
[STUDENTS DISCUSSING] So you would choose Frisian for the second one. Because it’s an officially recognised language, I would say Frisian. These are of equal importance I guess. Spanish, Catalan, Zulu, Swahili. Languages that are not–
These are similar. Why Turkish above Polish? I would turn them around. Yeah! And what about Greek? There are really some Greek people. Here? Or here? Yeah.
Yeah. [STUDENTS DISCUSSING] Which groups had Dutch? OK! So which languages did you have? English– But we compared the whole world. We– OK, well, at the global scale, English, OK. And all the other groups had Dutch. Mhm. Yeah? Last year, almost nobody had Dutch. It was a group where Dutch was somewhere, like, in the middle. I was like, what? OK. So, what about– how did you call them? –holiday languages? [LAUGHTER] What about Spanish and Catalan, Portuguese, Greek, Italian– fiesta languages? What did you do with them? Well, Spanish, we placed Spanish a bit higher. Because Spanish is a language that you are able to learn in high school here.
So, if you would have to move from your language ideology of the individual languages to a language ideology based on this category– foreign languages taught at school, minority languages, immigrant languages, and national languages– how would you order this, in our constructed language ideology? Which would be at the top? National languages. National languages? And right afterwards? Foreign languages. Foreign languages? And then? Autochtonous minority languages? Mhm? And then immigrant minorities. Yes.

Our underlying ideas about languages influence how we see languages in our societies and also how interact with different speakers of those languages. However, many of our ideas about the languages surrounding us are implicit.

In the following video, you will see how a group of students attending the Master in Multilingualism at the University of Groningen perform a language hierarchy exercise. This exercise intends to make implicit ideas about the position of languages in society become explicit, allowing for a reflection on existing language ideologies. It also allows for international comparison of the position of different languages within different societies.

Let us see how the students perform the task!

And remember that a language hierarchy is always an artificial construction, a means to start a discussion and never an end in itself.

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