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Expert in the Spotlight in 2009: Heiko F. Marten

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Featured expert /Area of focus:

Heiko F. Marten is specialist on linguistic landscapes, languages and parliament, decentralisation, multilingualism in education, motivation in language learning and local and global languages. He works as “DAAD-Lektor”, lecturer of German linguistics at  the Institute for Germanic-Romance languages and cultures of Tallinn University, Tallinn in Estonia. He also is one of the authors of the Mercator’s Regional Dossiers: Latgalian : The Latgalian language in education in Latvia (published in June 2009) together with Ilga Šuplinska and Sanita Lazdiņa.

If you have any questions on this months topics, Ask Heiko!

Face to face with Heiko F. Marten

What is your background in the field of regional and minority languages / education / multilingualism?

I am not a member of a minority community in any sense, but became interested in minority questions during my early studies in an attack of naive young students’ idealism. I later decided to write my MA on minority language policy, thereby connecting my interests in political science, history and linguistics. My PhD dealt with the role of parliamentary institutions on minority language, for which I did research on Scottish Gaelic and on Sámi in Norway.

After my PhD, in 2 years at Rēzekne University College in Latvia, I worked on minority issues in various domains of language use, including the regional language of Latgalian. And also in my current position at Tallinn University I am not forgetting my central interest in a contrastive framework of minority language situations, policies, attitudes and political players. In all that I am – hopefully – not as naive anymore as I was, but in many respects I am certainly still an idealist!

What do you think is the major challenge in your field of work?

That’s a difficult one – since there are obviously so many challenges. If I should mention one, that’s how to get awareness for issues of multilingualism not only among groups which are directly affected, but among larger parts of society. Multilingual individuals and societies continue by far too often to be treated as problems rather than opportunities. This is essentially a topic of achieving more tolerance, democratic participation, and eventually also language maintenance.Take, for instance, those debates in my home country which perceive German as a language under heavy threat by English: I have nothing against a strong German language in both Germany and as an international lingua franca – but there are obviously many other questions of multilingualism in Germany which need by far more attention, including the protection of Germany’s autochthonous minority languages.

At the same time, the existing achievements in many European societies should not lead us to forget that legal protection and institutional support for minorities and for small languages are by far more disastrous in many other parts of the world. In order to overcome such situations, it needs a lot of courage, openness and efforts to understand individual needs. Also in countries such as Estonia or Latvia, for instance, it would be important to find a dialogue which can pave the way into a pragmatic future rather than focussing on old obstacles again and again. (OK, that does sound a bit too idealistic, I assume.)

What is one of the hottest new projects / items you are working on?

Just like, I suppose, everybody in the field, I feel that there are so many (potential) issues that it’s again difficult to pick just one. I am currently starting a survey on motivation in language learning, which aims both at understanding better why the German language isn’t as popular anymore as it used to be in some of its traditional strongholds like the Baltic States, but which will also include questions on Latgalian.

Another hot issue is that I am writing an introductory text book to language policy in German, meant both for students and a more general audience. Such a book doesn’t exist yet in German, although it is in my view long overdue. I see this project again as part of a process of providing more information on multilingualism to a more general public – and thereby as an effort how to “languagize” society.

Are there any important references such as articles, links, etc. you would like to mention?

Yes, I would first of all like to mention my book on “Languages and Parliaments” which came out earlier this year.

Second, the Poga : The Language Survival Network for language rights in Russia and Europe is a group of wonderful researchers and activists which follows what is happening in the EU’s close, big neighbour. From a perspective of many language groups in Russia, many situations in the EU seem to be almost perfect. Therefore the network is trying to support developments in Russia with expertise gathered in many other countries , its general aim is supporting comparative research on various aspects of language maintenance, revitalisation, cultural survival and rights of minorities and indigenous peoples both in the Russian Federation and the European Union.

Third, the network 3M Identities in Motion : Multilingualism , Multiculturalism and Mobility in the Nordic and Baltic countries is a network which is just starting its work these months. 3M network aims at developing a new and innovative research platform for examining intertwined relations and tension between identity, multilingualism and multiculturalism. I am very much looking forward to meeting new colleagues in what looks like a framework of high intellectual potential!

Finally, I would like to mention the field of Linguistic Landscapes. I have applied this exciting research method in the Baltic States, and at present a group of scholars is collecting case studies for a book on the benefit of the method for minority language research.

Do you have any questions on these topics? Ask Heiko!

Featured topic:

Our focus this month lies on multilingualism in society and the legal protection for minorities and for small languages in Europe in particular.

Further reading:

Tallinn University: and

Multilingualism: an asset for Europe

Bridge or barrier? The role of multilingualism in Europe today