Unpacking dominant discourses in higher education language policy A critical study of language policy in Swedish higher education

University dissertation from Göteborgs universitet

Abstract: The overall purpose of the thesis is to investigate dominant discourses operating in the changing of HE concerning questions of language policy. It has been studied at a national level, analysing reports and government bills, and at an institutional level, analysing university language policy, taking Sweden as an example. The research questions address language ideals and language competences. The analyses reveal that discourse strands of economy/market, inclusion and success operate, often entangled with each other in discursive knots, in construing what and how languages are valued, and what kind of language competences academics and students need. An overall finding suggests that economic reasons and market values have become more and more salient in construing ‘language’, concurrently defining participation and prosperity. The findings show that it is primarily Swedish and English, i.e. as parallel languages, that are construed as language ideals. Swedish, as the national language, is constructed as essential for protective and democratic reasons. Academics are construed as protectors of Swedish scientific terminology and as facilitators of Swedish scientific learning. English, as the international language, is at present constructed as essential, or inevitable, for the interests of a liberalised research and educational market. However, the findings suggest a transformation from the 1970s when English was construed as important for reasons of solidarity and worldwide responsibility. English as an obvious and natural foreign language in Sweden is construed for professional, rational and participatory reasons. Multilingualism, beyond Swedish-English bilingualism, is not valued in HE in the 2000s, nor are minority languages or immigrant languages acknowledged in relation to HE. Instead of recognising the potential linguistic repertoire of multilingual students and academics, the findings indicate that perspectives of deficiency prevail. Transnational students and academics are construed as English proficient, and only as English proficient. English-language students are construed as important for universities. Market values and market forces incorporate success for students, but also for universities through these students. The constructs of language ideals and competences in language policy of Swedish universities are interdiscursively connected to the national level. A parallel Swedish-English language ideal construes Swedish as principle and English as more relevant as educational levels get higher. Ideas of linguistic progress for students and of subject-lecturers as language teachers are prevalent. The Swedish language ideal is to a large extent construed in relation to the plain language movement. Commodifying processes operate in the construals of language by externalising language from people, construing it as an added value, an instrument or a technical matter. Finally, the educational implications of the findings are discussed in relation to academic work.

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