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Trends and possibilities of language application in higher education in Estonia: A pilot
Any academic language has specific means of cognition and expression. These could enrich
our understanding of the world, but may remain unrecognised during the studies in higher
education, if English is regarded as the lingua franca of academic research. Thus the aim of
the paper is to study to which extent doctoral students regard language, and especially
Estonian language, important to academic research (in addition to the content). This paper
stems from the cooperation between linguists and sociologists, with the purpose to
theoretically model different factors influencing the choice of academic language. We rely on
the concept of intercultural strategies, introduced by Berry (1997) as an extension of his
earlier concept of acculturation strategies. The strategies derive from two basic issues facing
all peoples living in intercultural environment (see Kruusvall et al 2009): (i) a relative
preference for maintaining one’s heritage culture and identity, and (ii) a relative preference
for having contact with and participating in the larger society along with other ethno cultural
groups – and these issues are independent from each other. In terms of this model, the English
language centred academic culture can be viewed as the larger society, and national academic
languages as ethno cultural groups developing their own strategies. Our attention is on the
extent to which Estonian language is used for the purposes of PhD theses and other research
texts. We follow the process of internationalisation in Estonian higher education since the
societal transition in 1990s, and especially after the EU accession in 2004. We analyse the
quality and quantity of language usage in PhD theses with linguistic analysis of the language
corpus. In addition, via questionnaire based study conducted in 2012 among PhD students in
Estonia, we observe attitudes towards the significance of language in academic research. Our
interest lies in identifying factors that would facilitate quality of understanding and writing
academic texts in Estonian and other languages (mainly English). We assume the way a
language is maintained, reproduced and developed in academic writing at graduate level, do
depend on institutional factors, such as opportunities for publishing or suggestions made in
regard to language in the manuals for the theses preparation – e.g. whether it is required that
the supervisor pays attention to language use. Hence we attempt to reveal if any academic
standard exists in certain fields of study for language usage.
Berry, J. W. (1997). Immigration, acculturation and adaptation, Applied Psychology: An
International Review 46: 5–68.
Kruusvall, J., Vetik, R. & Berry, J. (2009). The Strategies of Inter-Ethnic Adaptation of
Estonian Russians. In Studies for Transition States and Societies, Vol 1, 1 (p 3–24).