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Linguistic Human Rights:
A Sociolinguistic Introduction
What are some of the problems in LHR that have most exercised linguists? What have we written or done that is relevant to human rights? Here are a few materials and topics from recent years. Many more could be added (ready-made entries will be welcomed!). I have not attempted to round up all the major materials available on the web and elsewhere, but rather assume that you will be able to find them through the links below and other sources.
o Theorising Linguistic Human Rights: Some of the major positions recently taken by sociolinguists actively involved in the debates (full references here), to start readers off:
o Possibly the best-known is outlined by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas & Robert Phillipson. In a 1994 volume, Linguistic Human Rights: Overcoming linguistic discrimination, Phillipson says, “The challenge... is to see how a human rights perspective can support efforts to promote linguistic justice.”
o In a 1997 review article, Christina Bratt Paulston characterises the above approach as representing one type of “exhortatoty and ideologically based studies in which language rights are considered a causal variable” aimed at producing “social change or future developments”. She contrasts this with atheoretical historical and descriptive accounts with language rights treated as a dependent variable. Her own argument is to consider LR as context-specific, emic rights rather than universal.
o In a 2001 issue of the Journal of Sociolinguistics, dialogue #8 by Blommaert challenges the framework, aims and scholarship of the respondents – dialogue #9 by Skutnabb-Kangas, Phillipson & Kontra – and a heated discussion ensues.
o Some general resources relevant to language and human rights:
o Statements & position papers by the American Anthropological Association on “Language Rights”, “Human Rights”, etc.
o Some basic definitions and concepts in sociolinguistics.
o International legal instruments relevant to linguistic rights.
o The “Oakland Ebonics” controversy – whether African American children in the
o John Rickford's Ebonics page.
o The Center for Applied Linguistics Ebonics information page.
o Rosina Lippi-Green’s model of the language subordination process (which she applies to African American English).
o The “English Only” movement in the
o Journalist Jim Crawford's homepage tracking legislation related to English-Only and bilingual education.
o Dennis Baron’s collection of articles and columns on English-Only.
o A basic-level summary of cases and rules governing use of non-English languages (mostly Spanish) in the workplace, brought under the Civil Rights Act, by Katie Thomas Trites
o Language death and endangerment – some general sources, and case study material from the Pacific, one of the world’s largest sources of small, traditional and/or endangered language groups:
o A standard source for information on languages around the world (Ethnologue).
o Randy LaPolla’s webpage on endangered languages & resources (1998 but still useful).
o The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project at SOAS.
Last revised 30 October 2007