Language hierarchies in the international university



The aim of the project was to analyze practices of hierarchization, inclusion and exclusion of languages in a de facto multilingual setting such as a university, where more than 50 different languages may be present among the language resources of students and staff. The major analytical categories were those of language hierarchization in practice and in representations, as well as distinctions of language hierarchies at different levels: the global, the regional, the state and the institutional levels. The empirical area was Roskilde University with a focus on the multilingual policy implemented at the BA and MA program Cultural Encounters, Roskilde University, a program that deals with issues of multicultural and multilingual society in a global and postcolonial perspective. The data consist of one group interview about multilingualism at Roskilde University, a series of policy documents from the program Cultural Encounters since its start in 2000, and a questionnaire among the students of Cultural Encounters. The theoretical field was mainly sociolinguistics, cultural studies and globalization studies.

The project aimed at theoretical development within the field of language hierarchization in institutions, and emphasized the need to investigate not only language policies related to the main working language(s) such as for instance (in Denmark) English and Danish, but also to include potential multilingual policies including a wider range of languages, both as policies of wider representation and policies of invitation. The questionnaire (from 2005, N = 106) showed that at that time students at Cultural Encounters had some knowledge of 52 languages in total, and the team of teachers (N = 15) had some knowledge (particularly reading skills) of 19 languages. The program was described on the internet in nine different languages. Thus Cultural Encounters had implemented a policy of wider representation. It had also implemented a policy of invitation to use other languages, both in foreign-language reading groups (an obligatory part of MA studies) and in the writing of summaries of student projects and theses. Among the languages having been included in this way in the program are: Portuguese, Polish, Swahili, German, Russian, Turkish, French, Chinese and Spanish. The project has been presented at conferences and seminars in Hong Kong, Durham, Tallinn and Roskilde.


Risager, Karen (2011). Cosmopolitan language policies. in: Fred Dervin (ed.), Analysing the Consequences of Academic Mobility and Migration. Cambridge UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 13-28. (Originally held as a plenary lecture at an international conference in Tallinn on academic mobility, in September 2009. It was also held as a lecture in the Socio-linguistics (SCALPS) seminar program at Roskilde University).

Risager, Karen (2012). Language hierarchies at the international university. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 216, pp. 111-130. (Originally held as a paper at CALPIU’s international conference on the international university, in December 2008).

In addition to this, I have presented the project at a Cultnet seminar in Durham in 2008, and I have held a paper on the project at CALPIU’s symposium as part of an international conference in Hong Kong on Language Issues in English-Medium Universities, in June 2008. The title of this paper was: How can international universities contribute to the visibility and use of the multilingual resources of their students?

Publications and Presentations