Professor to speak on future of language barrier in Europe

By Kiran Sood

Susan Gal, professor of anthropology and linguistics at the University of Chicago, will discuss the politics of language inside and outside of the European Union today at 4 p.m. in room 101 of the International Studies Building, 910 S. Fifth St.

The lecture, entitled “Language and the Future of (Eastern) Europe,” is a part of the Colloquial Series held by the Russian, East European and Eurasian Center (REEEC), which aims to organize diverse programming activities and supporting area research.

Gal received a doctoral degree in anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley and is one of the leading scholars studying language and gender issues of post-socialist Eastern Europe. Gal also co-edited Languages and Publics: The Making of Authority with Kathryn Woolard and co-authored The Politics of Gender after Socialism with Gail Kligman.

“The current supra-national and very powerful European Union is not officially tied to any language at all, or rather to more than 10 different languages,” Gal said. “So, the politics of language in Europe today is a whole new kind of phenomenon than ever before.”

She said that during the last 200 years, Europeans constructed national standard languages as the ultimate symbols and signs of national and political belonging. Gal will discuss her views on how the lack of linguistic unity among Europeans is dangerous to attaining political unity.

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She said her speech will take a number of different examples of language situations in Europe today and examine them as ironies of language in that region.

“I hope to shed light on aspects of European language usage that are not usually examined by the political scientists who worry about language politics,” Gal said.

Lynda Park, assistant director of the REEEC, said the lecture would address a fascinating and important topic of language policy and politics in Europe.

“We are at a time when the newly enlarged European Union has pretensions of functioning more and more like a nation-state,” Park said. “As a leading anthropologist of Eastern Europe, Gal should provide quite a different perspective on this topic than, let’s say, the official line of the European Union.”

Sara Tsai, freshman in LAS, has not yet taken anthropology courses at the University but feels that this topic is definitely worth a second chance.

“Communication between people is something that helps us get our ideas and feelings across to one another,” Tsai said. “If we lose the ability to communicate because of a language barrier, then we will be at a great loss.”

Nina Polyn‚, freshman in LAS, had a different opinion on the issue. She said that Europe as it is today – with many individual languages – is beneficial.

“I think it makes (European countries) unique to not have a common language and it keeps their cultures and lifestyles original,” Polyn‚ said. “They need to know how their ancestors had carried their language on. They should continue this tradition as well.”

Alex Joo, freshman in LAS, also shared her opinion, adding that the diverse languages spoken there define Europe.

“I am simply against the application of one language throughout Europe,” Joo said. “I believe the most important thing is the preservation of the uniqueness of each country in Europe through its own special language.”