Educational materials © for/by Peter L. Patrick. May contain copyright material used for educational purposes. Please respect copyright.
Linguistic Human Rights:
A Sociolinguistic Introduction
(What) Can Linguistics Contribute to Human Rights?
LHR does not at first blush appear to be the most pressing area of human rights to think about. One reason could be that there are a number of urgent and dramatic areas for which it’s hard to think of any contribution linguistics has made. Such topics as
o voting rights,
o legal status of aboriginal peoples’ land claims,
o freedom of speech
o equality for women’s work, and
o refugee & asylum issues
seem like examples of this. At some point in each issue, language (or a language) is certainly relevant, but it’s not (yet, or not always) obvious what linguistics as a discipline has to usefully say.
· (Things change fast. Within a year after I wrote this, I became aware that there was a recent and dramatic rise in the number of linguists - and other so-called language experts! - who are asked for expert opinions concerning the last point. For more on refugee/asylum issues, see here.)
On the other hand, there is a considerable body of work on, e.g.,
o discourse analysis of political rhetoric,
o threats to and extinction of indigenous languages,
o language choice and repression in public activities,
o how language constructs and reinforces gender ideologies, and
o the complex relations between language socialization, linguistic competence, and ethnic group membership,
which might easily be made relevant to the preceding issues at several levels – if only enough people who know about the latter set to work together with experts in the former.
One possible way – there are, no doubt, many! – to organise some of these interrelations, is to draw on sociolinguistic typology. In what ways can we characterise societies through their languages, and what sorts of human rights problems characteristically arise in these different categories? I give a brief exploration of one such taxonomy here.
Last revised 2 November 2005