Course materials © for/by Peter L. Patrick. Contains other copyrighted material used for educational purposes. Please respect copyright.

Notes for HU901, on Linguistic Human Rights

University of Essex,

Peter L Patrick


National Policies towards Linguistic Minorities


The UN Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (1967) found four basic patterns regarding language rights:


  • All the languages spoken by the main linguistic groups are given official status.
    • Exs: Switzerland; Belgium; Singapore
      • Diglossia in Singapore
  • Some minority languages are designated official languages.
    • Exs: Canada, Finland, New Zealand, Israel
      • Quebec passed restrictive legislation to protect French, but the Charter of the French Language was found to infringe on freedom of expression and struck down (Del Valle 2003 338-9)
      • However, the CSC did suggest that instead of exclusive use of French, requiring bilingualism would be constitutional
  • Some minority languages are granted official status but only at a regional level.
    • Exs: Italy, Nigeria, Austria, Ghana, Iraq
      • Iraq’s 1970 constitution
  • Minority languages are refused official status, but their status is protected in part via constitutions, treaties, national legislation.
    • Exs: USA, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Denmark, Bulgaria, Sri Lanka
  • A further case, not noted by the UN Sub-Commission, applies to majority languages not recognised as languages:
    • Ex: Jamaican Creole
      • Jamaica 1962 constitution only recognises minimal guarantees in context of criminal prosecution
    • Such rights are typically inspired by Article 14(3) of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Del Valle 2003: 339-40)



Del Valle, Sandra. 2003. Language rights and the law in the United States. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

De Varennes, Fernand. 2001. A Guide to the Rights of Minorities and Language. COLPI Paper no. 4. Budapest: Constitutional and Legal Policy Initiative.

De Varennes, Fernand. 1996. Language, Minorities and Human Rights. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Report of the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities on its 20th session (1967). UN ESCOR, 23rd session.


Linguistic Human Rights homepage  

Peter L. Patrick's home page


Last updated 03 March 2008