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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)

 

References:

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.  http://www.eumap.org/library/static/libr0/l/6/se56p2w.pdf

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.

 

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Last updated 03 March 2008