The last weeks heated discussions are taking place in the universities of Norway due to the new “quality standards” set by the Ministry of Knowledge (literal translation of Kunnskapsdepartementet in Norwegian). One of the criteria set forward is a minimum of students attending a study program and sets the limit at minimum 20 participants. Despite the irrelevance of such criteria for the judgment upon which a discipline is selected for a university curriculum or not, there are some interesting observations that need to be made in regards to language disciplines which are of particular concern to the authors – and quite some readers we believe – of this blog:
Neither English – the most international language – nor German – the language of the main trade partner of Norway – nor Greek nor Latin – the most essential linguistic tools for the thorough understanding of old literature and the building up of new scientific terms – would qualify for language courses worth supporting in the future in the framework of “knowledge” as understood by the cabinet of the Minister of Knowledge in today’s Norway! Obviously, other sorts of criteria should be chosen.
The point was very aptly taken up by the professor of Classics at the University of Bergen, Pär Sandin, in an essay published at the University online journal På Høyden: http://pahoyden.no/debatt/2014/05/smafag-og-sprakfag The text is in Swedish, but we offer hereby a summary in English:
The first point raised is that the number of students is not correctly estimated if the participation in the programs is what counts, since students may attend courses in other supporting disciplines. Ancient Greek would for instance be a supporting discipline for someone studying for the Bachelor programs in archaeology, history, medieval studies or religious studies – to mention a few programs in the Faculty of Humanistics. One reason for this phenomenon is the difficulty of specializing in a language at a high level – i.e. studying for a Bachelor in Greek. Those who do take the decision in the end have done so for some particular motivation that should be considered as more important than simply “conserving of culture”.
Professor Sandin proceeds to explain that language disciplines are in fact assisting the humanistic, juristic, sociological, and theological sciences in the same manner that mathematics are assisting all natural sciences. And after a series of elucidating examples, he concludes the paragraph by refuting the absurdity that only one university in Norway should have the expertise in language disciplines, especially regarding Classic Studies.
To argument against this, he states the foremost competence of the Bergen milieu in medieval Studies, a period when Latin was the lingua franca of the West and Greek the one of the East. This sets directly Sandin’s thesis in the global picture, since the use of Latin in Europe’s past and of Greek in the past of large parts of the Middle East and North Africa makes these two languages “internationalism’s historical languages”.
It is the case that Sudan is not mentioned in the essay, although it could strengthen some arguments in the sense of the importance of studying Greek texts from Sudan in the University of Bergen, so we will conclude today’s post by adding three points of Sudanological focus:
1. Another field of studies at the University of Bergen with strong links to the teaching of the Greek language is the studies of the written sources from and about ancient Sudan and medieval Nubia. We have mentioned several times the Fontes Historiae Nubiorum prepared at Bergen by Tomas Hägg, Tormod Eide, Richard Holton Pierce, and Lazslo Török. We can also add here the personal archive of Tomas Hägg, one of the few who attempted an overview of the use of Greek in Christian Nubia. A strong milieu like the one Hägg was working in offered the adequate philological background to estimate better the use of Greek in the Sudanese periphery of the ancient and medieval Greek-speaking worlds. Such works could very well continue today as can be seen from the philological and linguistic output of the Bergen school in the more recent years too.
2. Moreover, in Sudan itself there is an institution that provides lessons of Greek language. We refer of course to the Greek school in Khartoum, where in the mornings children follow the complete curriculum of the Greek Ministry of Education (however, there are plans to change this system very soon) and in the afternoons there have been periods when Greek language courses were offered for adults of both Sudanese and ex-patriate origins. Is there any future in all that?
3. Already from the days I was working for the Greek Community of Khartoum both in the school as a language teacher and directing the Greek Cultural Center, there have been intense discussions with various universities in town to start up some course of Greek language. El-Nilein University and the Comboni College were the institutions where my contacts could help promote the idea. But my contacts died (R.I.P. Khider Abdelkareem and Armando Ciappa), I left the country, and when later on I heard that there was a plan to develop courses of Greek language in the Khartoum University it proved after a couple of years that the Greek crisis could not support such exploits…
The last point implies that it is necessary that there exists a national policy in the home land of the Greek language, but one rightfully wonders what can be expected from the situation the country is in currently, with its diaspora shrinking and the people becoming more and more xenophobic… but that’s another sort of analysis for a completely different venue.