Doctoral defense: Maimu Berezkina
Maimu Berezkina defended her dissertation on June 20 in Gamle Festsal at Domus Academica.
Photo: Nadia Frantsen
Berezkina's research project Multilingual state websites in Estonia and Norway: A study of language policy in new media set out to study the language used in physical but also virtual linguistic landscapes (VLL) in Norway and Estonia. Her research looked into how people’s views on languages and their users affect the availability of these languages on public websites, that is, in the VLL. More specifically, how are different institutional websites an important space for the investigation of policies regulated by the government?
The VLL is an extension of the concept of linguistic landscapes, and is described as encompassing state websites and other digital arenas on the Internet. These services can be anything from tax offices to the directorate of immigration. In digitally advanced countries, like Norway and Estonia, these VLLs permit access to public services that previously demanded interaction with an actual person.
In Estonia, even though the government through its language policies have had an explicit goal to downplay the role of Russian and promote Estonian instead, in order to distance itself from the Russification during the Soviet era, this monolingualism is far from the case on the VLL. There are actually substantial resources being invested in translating public websites to Russian, since Russian still is commonly used in everyday practices. Russian is therefore valued as a resource by many, since it ensures effective communication for the government’s many digital services. Practical reasons are thereby cited as giving a multilingual VLL, even though official policies seem to try and restrict these practices.
The Norwegian situation is rather complex, with its two mutually intelligible written standards, an indigenous language, and several protected minority languages. In addition, many websites have an option for English. Official policies state Bokmål, Nynorsk, and Sámi have equal status for official communication, but Berezkina’s data suggest Nynorsk and Sámi are much less prioritized than Bokmål. In fact, much of the public information available in Bokmål—or Nynorsk—on the VLL, is not translated to either Sámi, or the minority languages, which makes this public information simply unavailable to people who do not understand either Bokmål or English.