NWU Vaal Research: UPSET and University of Chemnitz commit to future language research

Anjonet Jordaan -- Mon, 03/02/2015 - 10:36

NWU Vaal Research: UPSET and University of Chemnitz commit to future language research

The UPSET Research Focus Area on the Vaal Triangle Campus of North-West University (NWU) and Chemnitz University of Technology, Germany recently concluded an agreement for cooperation and exchange between the two universities.

According to Prof Susan Coetzee-van Rooy, director of UPSET (Understanding and Processing Language in Complex Settings), researchers of the two universities have had a long-standing collaborative association.

“Prof Josef Schmied is the world's foremost expert on East African English and works at the Department of English at Chemnitz University in Germany. The links between the NWU-UPSET and Chemnitz started because Prof Bertus van Rooy (an expert on Black South African English) and Prof Schmied are both World Englishes scholars who study specific varieties of English. In 2011 and 2013, Bertus and I spent two to three months as visiting scholars in Chemnitz, primarily to consolidate our writing. Prof Schmied was a member of the international panel that evaluated the work of UPSET in 2014. The collaboration between Prof Schmied, Bertus and some of their students also resulted in shared research projects and articles in the past.”

The platform created by this agreement will benefit staff and students of the two institutions in a number of ways:

  • Staff and student exchanges;
  • Staff development, training and further education;
  • Co-research projects;
  • Visiting lectures;
  • Organisation of common conferences; and
  • Exchange of publications and other materials of common interest.

Staff and student exchanges

Both the NWU Vaal Triangle Campus and Chemnitz University will nominate up to five master's and PhD students from each institution to engage on a reciprocal exchange programme per academic year. These visits between the two institutions will be for periods of three to six months.

“We hope to expand these links so that more students and staff could spend time at our respective universities. In some ways our contexts are very similar:  Chemnitz is in East-Germany and a lot of reconstruction and development is also taking place there. Furthermore, at postgraduate level across the world, students are struggling to write academic texts with ease. We discuss these shared problems when we collaborate,” says Prof Coetzee-van Rooy.

Research and Publication

Researchers from the two universities will collaborate on joint research projects that will conclude within two to three years and from which both institutions will publish academic articles.

Prof van Rooy recently visited Chemnitz where he was the keynote speaker at the "Ehrenkolloquim", a special congress in honour of Prof Schmied and attended by a number of his former students and invited colleagues. Prof van Rooy at this point also took part in the oral examination of two PhD students of Prof Schmied.

Researchers from the two universities find common ground for their research projects focused on the English usage of Africans. Prof van Rooy’s research is aimed at Black South African English, which refers to English as it is spoken by people whose home language is an African language from South Africa; whilst Prof Schmied’s expertise lies in East African English. This shared theme has already yielded joint academic writing in the past, which will be encouraged even further in future through this agreement.

Another shared field of research is that of academic literacy. An increasing number of postgraduate programmes are available in Germany with English as medium of instruction to attract more international students. The English proficiency of these students are usually not at the level required for postgraduate studies, which means their challenges are akin to that faced by many university students in South Africa and presents an area of possible joint research projects.

During 2015 Dr Matthias Hofmann from Chemnitz will visit UPSET as part of his postdoctoral work. Dr Hofmann is an expert in the use of statistics for linguistics research, which he will share with members of the UPSET Research Focus Area.

Why is the study of English in other contexts important?

“English has become the most widely used language in the world, but in the process, it pays the price of adjusting to local circumstances. Thus, when English was transplanted across the Atlantic to what are Canada and the United States today, it started to change and diverge from British English. The same has happened when English was transplanted to the Southern Hemisphere, so that English in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand today are different from British English too, but in other ways than Canadian or American English. English was also transplanted to territories that did not become native-speaker settler colonies, but where the British merely imposed colonial rule, and then withdrew in the second half of the twentieth century. Countries like India or Nigeria therefore also inherited forms of English and continue to change in different ways," Prof van Rooy explains.

"English therefore offers a laboratory for the study of language change, because the same language is exposed to different conditions and changes in different ways and directions. This enables a scholarly examination of the factors influencing language change that is unique in terms of the scientific opportunity. Furthermore, English plays an extremely important role in the education and public life of former British colonies in Africa and Asia. A better understanding of the changes in English enables better formulation of language standards and models of teaching for school, so that English becomes a useful tool for participation in public life, rather than a barrier to opportunities.”