QS Subject Focus Summit 2020 on Modern Languages and Linguistics: Languages and migration in a globalized world

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This article summarizes some of the results of the first QS Subject Focus Summit on Linguistics and Modern Languages held jointly with the RUDN University on December 15-17, 2020. It provides rationale for the choice of venue of this linguistic forum and analyzes the most relevant topics of discussion, including interdisciplinarity in modern linguistic research, comparative studies of languages and cultures, and intercultural and cross-cultural communication. Participants explored the topics as diverse as the role of linguistics in developing artificial intelligence systems and application of artificial intelligence in linguistic research, the dynamics of languages in minority situations and the efforts in preserving endangered languages. They dwelt on the current state of translation studies and discussed prospects for their future in view of advances in computer technologies, and many others. The articles included in this issue and authored by the Summit participants clearly show that language has become an object of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary studies. Moreover, the interdisciplinary research paradigm is manifested not only in the convergence of linguistics with other areas of humanities, but also with sciences. This article provides a brief overview of the contributions which present major paradigms of modern linguistics. It highlights the importance of applying computer technologies in linguistic research and emphasizes the necessity to modify language policies in order to preserve minority languages and meet the needs of language education in a multilingual and multicultural environment.

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This issue is dedicated to the QS Subject Focus Summit on Modern Languages and Linguistics 2020 held online at RUDN University on 15-17 December 2020. The theme of the summit was “Languages and migration in the context of globalization”. There are several reasons why RUDN University became a co-organizer of the QS summit on these subject areas.

  • Modern languages and linguistics are priority areas at RUDN University.
  • RUDN is ahead of other Russian universities in advancing in the international rankings in these disciplines (Ebzeeva et al. 2019). In the QS university ranking, it occupies the 88th position in Modern Languages and the 101st position in Linguistics.
  • With students belonging to 500 ethnicities and coming from 160 countries, RUDN is the most international university in Russia and among the leaders in internationalism in the entire world.
  • It has become a tradition at RUDN to pay special attention to the study of languages. All international students study Russian, and all Russian students have an opportunity to study one, two, or three foreign languages out of the 12 offered by the university.
  • RUDN University has developed a unique practice: regardless of their field of studies, students can be trained as translators in one or two languages and obtain an additional diploma.
  • The university has a unique multilingual environment.
  • In order to give an impetus to research, the Institute of Modern Languages, Intercultural Communication and Migration was founded in March 2018 in the framework of the Faculty of Philology. Activities of the new institute embrace several areas, and among them is the study of foreign languages and cultures, including Russian as a foreign language, the training of highly qualified interpreters and simultaneous interpreters in eight languages, research into sociolinguistics and political science, and investigation of migration processes. The first joint French-Russian research laboratory “Dynamics of languages in a minority situation” has been created and launched in the framework of the institute. RUDN University and the National Center for Scientific Research of France (CNRS-Centre national de la recherche scientifique) have signed a bilateral research agreement. This is the first agreement CNRS has ever signed with a Russian educational institution in the field of linguistics. The Institute regularly holds round tables, webinars, workshops and lectures. It conducts research on the sociolinguistic situation in the Moscow region, Mordovia, Karelia, Tatarstan and Bashkiria. Some of the field research is done in collaboration with French and Italian colleagues.
  • RUDN University is a center for the study of global migration processes. We take part in the work of the Laboratory for the Study of Migration Processes which focuses on socio-cultural adaptation and integration and security issues in the context of migration. The Institute has launched a unique MA programme “Migration Processes and Intercultural Communication” which incorporates a module developed at the University of Mons (Belgium).
  • RUDN’s motto is “Discover the world at one university”. Everyone coming to RUDN University enjoys the atmosphere of multilingualism, cultural diversity, and a combination of tradition and innovation, friendship and harmony. While communication in English dominates, we also support other big and small languages and cultures. The university runs cultural centres affiliated with the countries of the languages we teach and with student communities. We have created thematic linguistic spaces and support multilingual interactive projects and discussion clubs for international students. Thus, RUDN University, being multicultural and multilingual, became an ideal venue for the international forum on modern languages and linguistics.

The Summit was attended by more than 500 speakers, researchers in the fields of linguistics and language education, managers of higher educational institutions, experts and researchers in the field of minority language maintenance and preservation, and migration. We are proud that our invitation to participate in the Summit was accepted by well-known scholars from all over the world: Algeria, Australia, China, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, the USA, the UK, and other countries. The speakers included Anna Wierzbicka, Jean-Marc Devaele, Istvan Kecskes, Laura Alba-Juez, Michael Haugh, Michael McCarthy, Alain Dominique Vio, Robert O'Dowd, Anthony Green, Hino Nobuyuki, Felix Ameka, Tatiana Chernigovskaya, Andrei Kibrik, Vladimir Karasik, Aleкsei Maslov, Vladimir Zorin, Svetlana Ivanova, Olga Leontovich, Vadim Sdobnikov, Marina Solnyshkina, Tatiana Larina, and others. Among the guests attending the opening of the Summit were the Minister of Higher Education and Science of the Russian Federation Valerii Falkov, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Science of the Russian Federation Petr A. Kucherenko, Founder and Managing Director of QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) Nunzio Quacquarelli, Rector of RUDN University Oleg Yastrebov, and President of RUDN Vladimir Filippov.

The work of the Summit was organized along three main tracks: “Modern Linguistics: Challenges and Responses”, “Communication, Identity, National Minorities and Migration”, “Languages and Cultures: Teaching and Learning”. The speakers compared languages and cultures, explored peculiarities of intercultural and cross-cultural communication and evolution of lingua-cultural identity in migrant communities. Spesial emphasis was given to the dynamics of languages in a minority situation and preservation of endangered languages. Among topical issues were problems of language education, such as creation of barrier-free educational environment, teaching languages for specific purposes, and new challenges confronting educators due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Enthusiasm of the audiences and feedback we received after the Summit encouraged us to continue discussion with the presenters in this issue of the journal.

A significant event of the Summit was the participation of the internationally renowned Polish and Australian linguist and philosopher Anna Wierzbicka who was joined by her colleagues, disciples and followers. Their papers demonstrated the effectiveness and relevance of the theory of “universal semantic primitives” developed and evolving in relation to various languages for 50 years now (Wierzbicka 1972, 1980, 2012, 2020, Goddard & Wierzbicka 2007, 2021, Gladkova 2019, etc.). Articles in the festschrift in honour of Anna Wierzbicka which the Russian Journal of Linguistics published in 20181 continued the exploration of the key concepts of Natural Semantic Metalanguage based on semantic primitives. Their authors implemented Wierzbicka's approach aimed at analyzing cultural aspects of meaning – keywords of language and culture, and cultural scripts (Gladkova & Larina 2018a,b). The authors of these issues, as well as the speakers at the Summit, demonstrated a variety of applications of Wierzbicka's theory when exploring cultural semantics and pragmatics, as well as the interaction of language, culture and communication. In the article “‘Semantic Primitives’, fifty years later”, which appears in this issue, Wierzbicka reviews the development of the theory and the diversity of its applications proposed in this period. She argues that there is not only a shared “alphabet of human thoughts” but a shared mental language, “Basic Human”, with a specifiable vocabulary and grammar which can be a reliable basis for a non-Anglocentric global discourse on universal issues, such as global ethics, the future of the earth, as well as health and wellbeing of all people living on our planet.

Topics related to the interaction of language and culture were widely discussed at the Summit, and this volume follows up on this topic. In the article “Comparing languages and cultures: Parametrization of analytical criteria” Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk presents arguments in favour of a complex set of areas of reference in cross-linguistic analyses of word meanings. Basing her research on the results of the comparative analysis of the polysemantic English word 'integrity' and its Polish counterparts, she demonstrates the effectiveness of the complex use of linguistic, psychological, cultural and social domains to identify the cultural conceptualizations of the analysed forms in different lingua-cultures.

The talks of the Summit presenters once again convincingly demonstrated that the principles of the organization of scientific knowledge involving the interaction of many areas of research, inter-, multi- and transdisciplinarity are the most important paradigms in the field of linguistics (see, e.g., Mackenzie & Alba-Juez 2019, Bilá & Ivanova 2020, Sinelnikova 2020, and others). The combination of inter-, multi- and transdisciplinary approaches enabling researchers to go beyond their disciplines is based on the integration of research methods. When knowledge accumulated in different subject areas is pooled together, new research opportunities surface. This may expand research boundaries and trigger the emergence of new disciplines. The sharing and recombination of the knowhow is becoming an integral principle of linguistic research which came up in the Summit discussions of semantics, ethno-stylistics, language variability, as well as communication and translation.

In this issue, Arto Mustajoki presented a multidimensional model of interaction based on a multidisciplinary approach to communication. The author notes that from the perspective of individual disciplines such as linguistics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and others, the study of communication can expand our understanding of some aspects of communication, but it can hardly provide a complete picture of this complex process. On the other hand, the Multidimensional Model of Interaction which he proposes creates the basis for a systematic holistic approach to interaction and allows us to apply different methods and view this complex phenomenon from different angles.

Communication failures which lead to communication breakdowns and may trigger conflicts occur at different levels of communication: interpersonal, intergroup, and even interstate. The problems of intercultural communication have become particularly important and relevant in the context of globalization and migration which encourage intensification of intercultural contacts. To avoid these problems, we have to be aware of the subtleties of the interaction of language, culture and communication. A systematic study and a comprehensive analysis of the communicative behavior of people belonging to different cultures will help us explain the codes and the underlying reasons for various do’s and don’ts of the cultures that are not our own. This requires development of new integrative methodologies and promises a variety of applications in different spheres of human activities (see Besemeres & Wierzbicka 2007, Bromhead & Ye 2020, Dewaele 2010, Kabakchi & Proshina 2021, Kecskes 2014, Klyukanov & Leontovich 2016, Larina 2015, Larina et al. 2016, 2017, Larina & Ponton 2020, Malyuga & McCarthy 2018, 2020, Wierzbicka 2003/1991, 2012, 2020 among many others).

Contrastive studies of speech acts and discursive practices in different communicative cultures (Alemi et al., Malyuga & McCarthy in this issue) reveal social and cultural determinism of communication. They clearly demonstrate that communicative behaviour of people belonging to different cultures differs in similar communicative situations and these differences can only be explained at the interdisciplinary level and with the application of complex methodologies. These studies confirm the interaction of language, culture, cognition and communication and enrich cross-cultural research with new data. The studies in the field of cultural semantics, cross-cultural pragmatics and cultural linguistics have both theoretical and practical implications. Their results can be widely used in second-language teaching, intercultural communication and translation (Bowe et al. 2017, DeCapua & Wintergerst 2004, Lewis 2019, Pavlovskaya 2021, Savitsky & Ivanova 2018, etc.).

The state of modern translation studies was also discussed with an emphasis on inter-, multi- and transdisciplinarity. Presenting a large-scale research project on translation ergonomics, Gary Massey offers a model of transdisciplinary research in professional settings and emphasizes the need to move from inter- to transdisciplinarity. Klaudia Bednarova-Gibova examines the prospects and contradictions of modern translation studies related to polydisciplinarity. Although contradictions do exist, it is irrefutable that translation studies are of an interdisciplinary character, which is due to a complex nature of almost all types of translation and translation activities (Sdobnikov 2019: 323).

The interdisciplinary research paradigm does not only manifest itself in the convergence of linguistics with other fields of humanities, resulting in the flourishing of sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, cultural and cognitive linguistics, and others, but also in the convergence of sciences and humanities, which has given rise to neuro-linguistics, environmental, computer and corpus linguistics. The researchers emphasize that the convergence of different fields of knowledge is one of the most important trends of research and science today (see Sinelnikova 2020).

The use of information technologies and artificial intelligence in theoretical and applied linguistics is one of the most relevant and promising tracks of interdisciplinary research. Linguistic projects involving the use of computer technologies are proliferating (Alemi & Haeri 2020, Fuertes-Olivera et al. 2016, Hirschberg & Manning 2015, Paris et al. 2013, Rapp et al. 2016). The creation of national corpora, participation of linguists in the development of artificial intelligence systems, the use of artificial intelligence in compiling dictionaries, the application of computers and robotics in language education were in the focus of the Summit. The growing interest in this area prompted us to prepare a special issue of the journal devoted to computational linguistics in the near future. In this issue, we have limited ourselves to the article by Salvador Pons Bordería on corpus linguistics and the task of corpus annotating, which is becoming an increasingly important process.

Minority languages, their current state and maintenance is one of the most pressing issues of language policy. Currently, there are dozens, if not hundreds of minority languages and languages in a minority situation. In many cases their day-to-day and even symbolic functioning is difficult or almost impossible. A particular problem is language rights of individuals and groups of endangered-language speakers (e.g., Moskvitcheva & Viaut 2019, Skutnabb-Kangas 2000, Viaut 2019, 2021). The problem of language death is of a particular concern. Languages have never disappeared as quickly as in our times. The underlying reasons are social, political, economic and cultural ones. Globalization and the necessity for lingua franca as a communication medium for contact speech communities also play
a role (e.g., Brenzinger 2007, Crystal 2002, Fishman 2007). Only 600 of the approximately 6,000 existing languages are thought to be non-endangered (Crystal 2002). Today it is no longer a matter of concern for linguists and anthropologists alone, but draws attention of the wide public as well, bringing to the fore people who understand the importance of linguistic and cultural diversity. With the disappearance of a language, a part of culture is lost, as well as the knowledge that was transmitted by this language. For the speakers of endangered languages preserving their mother tongue is a matter of “identity, equality, and social justice” (Guérin & Yourupi 2017: 2018). The process of language extinction is global and takes place all over the world; unfortunately, Russia is not immune either (e.g., Moskvitcheva 2019, Viaut 2014, 2019, 2021). Is it possible to prevent this process or at least slow it down? In this volume, Andrej A. Kibrik presents the Program for the Preservation and Revitalization of the Languages of Russia proposed by the Institute of Linguistics of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Kibrik gives important humanitarian and scientific reasons for engaging in language preservation. His article examines various approaches to different language situations and puts forward three necessary conditions that must be met in any language revitalization project: the involvement of local activists, administrative and financial support and scientific validity of the methodology.

Among the issues of applied linguistics referring to the “person – language – culture” paradigm, language policies and language education are of primary concern (see, e.g., Aronin & Yelenevskaya 2021, Kohonen et al. 2014, Polinsky & Kagan 2007, Protassova & Yelenevskaya 2020, Ringblom & Karpava 2020, Zbenovich 2016). Although second-language teaching does not fall into the scope of our journal, in this volume we make an exception and offer readers two articles, the authors of which Hino Nobuyuki, Maria Yelenevskaya and Ekaterina Protassova go far beyond pedagogy. They discuss the interaction of language, ethnicity, identity, culture and education systems. They address approaches to teaching foreign languages which are inseparable from language policies, language ideologies and local sociolinguistic situations. They raise the following questions:

  • In the age of globalization and in the situation of linguistic superdiversity, should non-native speakers accommodate themselves to the communicative models of native speakers?
  • Does native-speakerism focused on the norms imposed on foreign language learning suppress freedom of thought and expression and in effect, fundamental human rights?
  • How is the teaching of world languages, such as English and Russian, changing due to changes in the functions and status of these languages in various countries?
  • Do pedagogical methods aimed at achieving ‘perfect’ command of the studied languages, have a future or it is necessary to take into account students’ needs and language repertoires, local sociolinguistic situation and labor market requirements?

These questions seem to require both methodological and linguistic considerations. They will hardly leave any of our readers indifferent because they are directly related to the young generation and, therefore, to our future.

The volume ends with two book reviews that are in tune with the issues discussed at the Summit.


1 Russian Journal of Linguistics 22 (3–4) 2018.


About the authors

Yulia N. Ebzeeva

RUDN University

Author for correspondence.
Email: ebzeeva-jn@rudn.university
ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0043-7590

PhD, is Director of the Institute of Modern Languages, Intercultural Communication and Migration of the RUDN University, Adviser for Global Partnerships, Head of the Department of Foreign Languages of the Faculty of Philology. She is a member of the international scientific committee of QS and a member of the editorial board of the Russian Journal of Linguistics. She actively participates in international conferences and forums, has spoken at the Council of Europe, and has repeatedly acted as an expert on linguistic and migration issues. She authored and co-authored over 80 publications. Her research interests include French lexicology and stylistics, translation studies, intercultural communication, sociolinguistics, migration studies, and educational policy.

6, Miklukho-Maklaya, Moscow, 117198, Russia


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