language policy

Want a PhD in Tajikistan? Then learn English or Russian

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The sages at the Ministry of Education in Tajikistan have decided that PhD candidates in the country should defend their theses in Russian or English [ru]. No official justification has been given for this November 8 announcement by Minister of Education Nuriddin Said.

The only exception would be for theses relating to ethnic and national issues, which would be permitted in Tajik, the national language.

News agency Radio Ozodi speculates that this move could be seen as a way of increasing the global audience for new Tajik knowledge given that there are more Russian and English speakers in the world than Tajik speakers.

On the one hand, there is some logic to this perspective. But on the other hand – and here we have a much bigger second hand – this new regulation appears highly problematic.

Having created its own Higher Attestation Committee (known by the Russian acronym VAK, from Vysshaya Attestatsionnaya Komissiya) with power to approve theses only in 2011, the Tajik government should surely look to this body for proposals on higher degree regulations.

What we’ve seen from the Tajik VAK so far is that it is open to postgraduates defending their work in their mother tongue. For most students these days, that is Tajik. Indeed, most universities now teach in the medium of Tajik, although some offer provision in Russian. Other than the University of Central Asia, I do not believe it is currently possible to study in the medium of English in Tajikistan.

Would learning another language be facilitated if more cats were involved?

This raises a second objection to the Minister’s ruling: the issue of language. It shouldn’t be assumed that postgrads know either Russian or English, or that they know them well enough to defend a doctoral thesis in another language.

Whilst the point about increasing the the audience for Tajik theses is fair, this would reduce the status of Tajik and Tajik knowledge. It places lower value on Tajik in the national education system at a time when the use of Tajik is rapidly increasing in the country.

One academic interviewed by Radio Ozodi suggested that learning another language should not pose a problem. Language learning, he said, is part of your development. Many people in Tajikistan have knowledge of two languages (a common combination is Tajik and Russian) and those from the Pamir region usually have at least two – their own dialect, Tajik, and then English and/or Russian.

But that doesn’t mean there’s a national predilection for learning languages. Russian, Tajik and English are all quite different from one another: it’s not like, say, French and Spanish or Spanish and Italian which share a number of commonalities.

Another issue is resources. As one current postgraduate noted in the Radio Ozodi article, the time and cost of translating a thesis (assuming you write it in Tajik and then translate to Russian or English) is an “expensive pleasure”. Translating one page of text from Tajik to Russian costs around US$10, so imagine the cost of translating a whole thesis and remember at the same time that the average salary in Tajikistan is a little over US$100.

Radio Ozodi also points out that the number of highly qualified people in Tajikistan is growing, with over 2,500 people holding a Kandidat Nauk (Soviet-era PhD equivalent) and over 200 with a Doktor Nauk (the highest qualification in the Soviet system, similar to the European habilitation).

It doesn’t leap to any connection between the Minister’s ruling and what it sees as a “fashion trend” to a higher qualification, but perhaps makes an implicit assumption that there’s a connection (otherwise, why mention these number and talk about the growth as a “fashion trend”?).

So instead let me leave you with the words of “Librarian”, one of the commentators on the article:

…теперь поняли, что диссертация на таджикском языке дальше нашего аэропорта никуда. ДА ВАК Таджикистана желать остаються лучшего как говорят Русская рулетка кто больше ставит ставки тот и играет. За это время сколько дураков и лжеученых защитились за деньги. Мин образования все молчит и набивает карманы. Нашей стране давно это понять пора!

…now they understand that a dissertation in Tajik won’t get you further than the airport. Yes, Tajikistan’s VAK wants to remain the best [but] as they say, Russian roulette: whoever puts the highest stake will win. And during that time, so many idiots and pseudo-scientists have defended their theses for money. The Ministry of Education keeps quiet and lines its pockets. It’s long been time for our country to understand this!

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – Kyrgyzstan shapes its online presence

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This is an interesting story from reliable Kyrgyz news agency on how the state is employing its expertise to create an alternative space in the Western dominated internet. Ostensibly a factual account of the Ministry of Education’s input into developing Kyrgyz language information on Wikipedia and Google Translate, it could equally be argued that this has deeper implication for the way Kyrgyzstan sees itself in the world. Rather than allow others to tell the country’s story, the government of Kyrgyzstan is taking its destiny into its own hands, allowing for its own narrative (of how the language should operate, of the country’s history etc) to come through. Another interesting observation is the top-down nature of these projects, where in many other countries input into web 2.0 projects like Wikipedia and Google Translate are organic developments by motivated individuals or groups. That could tell us something both about the Kyrgyz state’s level of confidence and trust in the population, and/or equally about the aspirations of Kyrgyz people to contribute to traditionally English-language dominated websites.

Here’s the article, reproduced from and copyright

Education Ministry of Kyrgyzstan contributes to development of Wikipedia in state language

20/10/15 07:58, Bishkek – news agency, by Kanykei MANASOVA

The Education and Science Ministry of the Kyrgyz Republic has joined the development of Wikipedia in state (Kyrgyz) language. The ministry reported.

According to it, the Ministry of Education of the Kyrgyz Republic provided Wikipedia developers with a list of 50,000 words including grammatical categories for posting on the portal, created within compiling the frequency state language dictionary “Kyrgyz Tilinin Zhyshtyk Sozdoru.” There is also created the Kyrgyz language version of Google Translate, which is developed by the Director of Our Heritage Foundation Chorobek Saadanbekov.

At present, the Ministry of Education and Wikipedia developers established cooperation and outlined plans for further implementation of the tasks to improve the status of the state language. Earlier, the National Library hosted a presentation of Wikipedia in the Kyrgyz language.