The Forms of Language Policy and Mother Tongue Education in East Central Europe (with special reference to the Hungarian case)

Orsolya Nador


The author intertwines the processes of  the histrory of nationalities and language independence with strands in the developmental forms of language policy and mother tongue education.

This is because, in order to understand the present situation, it is necessary to be acquainted with the motives behind discriminatory laws which existed in the past with respect to language and educational policy. The author points out that it is an important particularity that the  minorities of East Central Europe (including those of early times) have experienced changes in their respective statuses many times in the course of history. Moreover, members of one and the same nationality have at various times lived as a majority in one country while being a minority in another (e.g. Slovaks in the Czech lands, in Poland and in Hungary are in a minority position but in Slovakia they are obviously a majority).  There are many examples which can be listed with respect to this situation – that is, how certain nationalites have changed from being majorities to minorities, or from minorities to majorities; furthermore it is interesting to note how national boundaries appeared in these changes, how international and domestic policies were affected, and what occurred on the level of individual identities. Whatever the case, one thing that can be stated with certainty is that the quantity and nature of inequalities between minorities and majorities can primarily be identified in the field of education.  Within the latter it is the complexities of mother tongue education that feature above all others (e.g. organisation, material support, the quality  of local teachers and their sutiability for the job, the parents’ awareness of their minority identitiy, the quality of the education itself, and the prestige and social use of the language concerned).  Also to be counted among the particularites of a region are the temporal divergencies in the standardisation process of national languages, and as a consequence of  these the development of the relations of a Hungarian identity within the historical frontiers of  Hungary. (This is especially important when considering the post- First World War period, when the first huge boundary changes occurred. The author introduces the processes of  “settlement” of individual languages in a detailed analysis.

Language policies always carry with themselves some kind of educational model. In the case of the Hungarian language this could be as majority or minority language education; it could also be a second language for non-Hungarian ethnic groups living in Hungarian territory; in a more narrow sense, it could be considered as a local language where otherwise “minority” Hungarians actually represent the existing local “majority”; finally, “Hungarian as a foreign language” should be considered as a form of education offered to Hungarians both at home and abroad. The author also reviews those educational forms to which Tove Skutnabb-Kangas paid attention during the course of his researches into minorities. Thus she points out those divergencies have their sources in regional particularities.

At the end of the study  the author states that with respect to the education of minorities in East Central Europe – precisely because of  the divergencies between ethnic groups and national boundaries – regionality could offer a solution to existing problems.  Since the second half of the 1990s there have been cross-border institutions which operate successfully in assisting  mother tongue education of minorities at the secondary, vocational and higher levels. These could be even more effective if  the  linguistic, cultural, religious and economic traditions of  a given area and its real needs could be built into a system of cooperation with other existing organisations, and if more languages could be taught.  Among such organisations one could include the PHARE Cross-Border Cooperation Programme;  however, these activities would be likely to go against regional  traditions although at the national level the state could try “from above” to harmonise the work of designated institutions. Even so, it would still be difficult to avoid the trap of the conflict of interests between minorities and majorities. Yet with the experience of many decades, it can be said that inter-ethnic relations tend to work favourably (and even enrich each other) if measures are taken which come from above.  Consequently, those minorities with their own mother tongue and culture might be able to recognise common interests and then they would try appreciate international support, with opportunities that are laid down in bilateral agreements. The guaranteeing of mother tongue education – and one of the most important components of  its basis is the education of  “its” citizens – is indirectly related to social-economic uses; from this point of view it could become controversial.