Educational materials © for/by Peter L. Patrick. May contain copyright material used for educational purposes. Please respect copyright.
Linguistic Human Rights:
A Sociolinguistic Introduction
Linguistic human rights (LHR) is a topic that has gained prominence rapidly among linguists in the last few years, and also with the general public. It’s of particular interest to applied linguists and sociolinguists because we have long been involved with certain areas in which language intersects with human rights (education, healthcare, language planning, and the courtroom in particular), though many linguists of other sorts have also become involved. However, linguists – even sociolinguists – have not generally been, or thought of ourselves as, human rights scholars or activists, and have often lacked a general view situating their professional linguistic activities within the fields of general human rights and cultural rights.
Likewise, it seems fair to say that LHR has not been a prominent focus within the broader field of human rights itself. In many particular cases language has played a role, and many human rights practitioners and scholars may be deeply familiar with one or a range of language situations. But sociolinguistics is essentially a comparative field whose students and practitioners are familiar with a broad range of social settings for language, and a wide variety of language structures and functions that are influenced by, and help to construct, social contexts. Just as linguists may lack knowledge of human rights generally, this comparative sociolinguistic view is unfamiliar to many human rights professionals. They may not share what we consider to be basic understandings in our field – e.g. concerning societal multilingualism, language and culture, language and ethnicity, standard versus vernacular language, variation and change in language, speech (and sign) versus writing, and so forth.
This page is a first step, a way to begin thinking forward, for people who wish to become involved with linguistic human rights from either of those directions. I am in the first category myself (a linguist), and have only begun to explore the topic in the last couple of years. On this website I provide a few helpful materials for further study, link up some disparate elements, and suggest ways to think about – and act in – the emerging field of … well, what is it called, actually? Language rights? Linguistic rights? Linguistic human rights? Speakers’ rights (and don’t forget signers’ rights!)?… Clearly we are still near the beginning here…
Last revised 2 November 2005