The Linguist

The Linguist 58,5 - October/November 2019

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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20 The Linguist Vol/58 No/5 2019 FEATURES Romana Sustar investigates how the School of Slavonic and East European Studies has evolved to survive R elations between the UK and Eastern Europe have been on a rollercoaster since at least 1989, according to Diane Koenker, Director of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) at University College London (UCL). The first female director of the school, which was founded in 1915 to provide regional expertise and language training during WWI, points to support for European integration and unity on one side, and separatist political movements and local conflicts on the other. The rise of anti-democratic and sometimes xenophobic populism in some Eastern European countries is also of great concern. The relationship between the UK and Russia has had its own rocky trajectory – the Salisbury poisonings reigniting fears reminiscent of the Cold War. Throughout its 105-year history, SSEES has negotiated such tensions. Co-founded by the philosopher Tomas Masaryk, who later became the first President of Czechoslovakia, it has always had a focus on languages – a sometimes controversial area, particularly in the post-Soviet era. Dr Koenker explains: "Language politics are highly contentious, and conflicts over defining majority and minority languages, or differentiating between a language and a dialect, have been part of the turbulent history of the region, particularly since the breakup of the three large empires that occupied this space: the Habsburgs, the Ottomans and the Russians." In the last 30 years, one of the tasks of SSEES academics and students has been to study such tensions – both within the region and between Eastern Europe and the UK – in order to advise policymakers and the public. "Many of our students come from the Slavonic region, including Russia, and we have the chance to engage in dialogue and to learn from one another," says Koenker. Continual development The school is continually developing in response to the most pressing concerns of the day. In 1999, it became part of UCL (it was previously an independent part of the University of London) and it is now has 60 academic staff and almost 1,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students. It offers degrees in ten languages: Bulgarian, Czech, Finnish, Russian, Hungarian, Polish, Serbian/Croatian, Slovak, Romanian and Ukrainian. Its evening classes are available in a further seven, including Albanian, Georgian and Slovene. Students can also enrol in combined language degrees, such as Finnish and Dutch. Russian is the most popular language, with multiple levels from ab initio to advanced, including options for students taking non-language degrees. Although language learning is still a major focus, interdisciplinarity is now at the heart of School of thought © SHUTTERSTOCK

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