Dr Irina Moore is a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics, TESOL, and Russian at the University of Wolverhampton’s Department of English, Linguistics, and Creative Writing. Her research and teaching interests have been fostered by many years of teaching and mentoring in the UK, Russia, Lithuania, and the Philippines and, until recently, have been focused on Comparative Psycholinguistics, Translation Theory, and Language Teaching Methodology.
Here she talks about her latest research projects sparked by a period of teaching in Kazakhstan.
Two years ago, my work took me to Central Asia, where I was honoured to teach a CPD course for staff members of the Department of Foreign Languages and Theory of Translation at the National Eurasian University in Astana.
While in Kazakhstan, I became fascinated with the processes of derussification and language shift, which are closely linked to identity and language policies in this newly independent country. On returning from Astana in May 2012, I submitted a bid for a research project within the Early Researcher Award Scheme (ERAS) operating at the University of Wolverhampton. The grant was used to fund a research project on language policies in Kazakhstan (‘Negotiating Public Space: Post-Soviet Linguistic Landscape in Kazakhstan’). This was completed in June 2013 (a paper was presented at the 11th International Conference New Directions in the Humanities, Budapest, Hungary, June 2013 and an article has been published in The International Journal of Communication and Linguistic Studies in September 2014).
As the result, the study of linguistic landscaping has become the focus of my recent research interests. Ideologies, linked to language policies and planning, find their expression in the social environment via various channels, one of which is the linguistic landscape. Since gaining independence, Kazakhstan has become a subject of close interest for researchers investigating questions of state building, identity and nationalism. Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world and is renowned for its natural resources. Its thriving energy industry has played a large part in its role as an emerging world economy and it continues to attract foreign investment. Like many other institutions, University of Wolverhampton lists it as one of the priority development areas in its business plan. However, doing business in any area requires a thorough understanding of local business culture, national identity, and etiquette.
By the time Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991, only 40% of its population were ethnic Kazakhs and most of them no longer spoke the language. Today Kazakhstan is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Central Asia, with substantial non-Kazakh and non-Muslim minorities. The government constantly accentuates the need to preserve the Kazakh language, ‘forgotten’ during Soviet era. The state launched an active campaign of Kazakh language revival. ‘The 1995 language law established a clear hierarchy of languages with Kazakh being granted a higher status as state language and Russian placed in the less equal position as “language of interethnic communication” or lingua franca’ (Bhavna Dave, ‘Minorities and Participation in Public Life: Kazakhstan’, 2004). At the same time the government has proclaimed multiculturalism as a basis of national identity employing an original Eurasianistic theory.
These are inevitably connected to the language situation and language policies in the country. The Kazakh and Russian languages were highly politicised, when both became involved in defining the new state. The main purpose of language legislation in Kazakhstan is to reverse the Soviet-era language shift (to Russian) and build a new state with Kazakh as its sole national language. The purpose of the project was to gain an understanding of the extent to which language practices coincide with official language policy in urban Kazakhstan.
My latest paper, “Multilingual Cityscape: language, politics and urban space in Astana” (presented at The 17th World Congress of the International Association of Applied Linguistics, Brisbane, Australia, August 2014), expands the work done on the previous project. It not only provides a review of language policies in Kazakhstan since independence and analyses the current sociolinguistic situation, but it also adds insights from semiotic landscapes, which is an exciting new addition to the study of linguistic landscapes. It looks at how landscape generates meaning, and, particularly, at the use of space as a semiotic resource. It demonstrates the insights that such analysis can provide into language policy debates. It looks into the efforts of the Kazakh government to strengthen and consolidate the position of Kazakh as a state language, while combining this monolingual approach with the policies of bilingualism and multilingualism.
I am also interested in exploring the application of Linguistic Landscape Studies (LLS) as a tool for analysis of how the presence and distribution of languages could be connected with specific populations and communities and the relationship between them, or with the patterns of social interaction in the particular urban space. This is a newly emerging approach, which turns LLS into an ethnographic and historical project. Following a research template developed by Jan Blommaert (2013), I would like to analyse dynamic and complex features of the social fabric of one of the ethnically diverse inner-city neighborhoods of Wolverhampton.