LINGUIST List 11.2075

Fri Sep 29 2000

Review: Kontra et al: Language, A Right and Resource

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  1. Angela Bartens, Kontra et al. Review

Message 1: Kontra et al. Review

Date: Fri, 29 Sep 2000 13:49:29 +0800
From: Angela Bartens <>
Subject: Kontra et al. Review

 Kontra, Miklos, Robert Phillipson, Tove Skutnabb-Kangas & Tibor 
Varady (eds.) (1999): Language: A Right and Resource: Approaching 
Linguistic Human Rights. Budapest: Central European University 
Press. 346 pages. Hardcover US $ 49.95 / GB � 31.95, paperback US $ 
23.95 / GB � 14.95. 

Reviewed by Angela Bartens, University of Helsinki. 

The volume under review reunites the papers presented at a 
conference on Linguistic Human Rights (LHR) in Budapest, Hungary, in 
October 1997. At the same time, it is a state-of-the-art panorama of 
the (sub-)field of LHR which has gained impetus especially over the 
past decade. Situated on a chronological continuum somewhere between 
Skutnabb-Kangas & Phillipson (eds., 1994) and Skutnabb-Kangas 
(2000), it testifies to the progress made since the "early days" of 
LHR research. 

LHR are diagnostic of the post-modernist quest for a new society 
initiated in the post-Cold War years. Although LHR research is 
multidisciplinary by definition, the integration of insights from 
several disciplines, above all law, economics, and sociolinguistics, 
has become much more successful over the years as individual 
researchers have tried to learn from each other. One of the main 
assets of this collection of papers is the extent to which it 
embodies the multi- and cross-disciplinary efforts made by those 
concerned with LHR. Another major focus of the collection is the 
affirmation that language (and its use) is both a right and a 


After the "Introduction: Conceptualising and Implementing Linguistic 
Human Rights" (pp.1-21) authored by the editors of the volume, the 
book is divided into five thematic sections according to the 
predominant perspective from which LHR are approached. 

The first section, "General issues", starts with Robert Phillipson's 
discussion of "International Languages and International Human 
Rights" (pp. 25-46). He portrays the international hegemony English 
has reached in spite of lip service to multiple working languages in 
international organizations such as the UN and the EU. Although 
Phillipson admits that he has become aware of Esperanto only 
recently (p. 34), his paper is also a plea for re-examining the 
potential of Esperanto as a democratic international language. In 
"Heroes, Rebels, Communities and States in Language Rights Activism 
and Litigation" (pp. 47-80), Angeline Martel explores the potential 
of litigation in the quest for LHR from the Canadian perspective, 
or, more accurately, from the perspective of the Francophone 
minorities outside Quebec. After demonstrating the reciprocal 
relationship between ideology and law on the one hand and ideology 
and activism on the other, she proceeds to show how activism can 
have a major impact on the law through litigation in many if not all 
democracies and strongly urges other minority groups to engage in 
this battle. In "'Don^�t Speak Hungarian in Public!' - a 
Documentation and Analysis of Folk Linguistic Rights" (pp. 81-97), 
Miklos Kontra highlights the importance of considering, studying, 
and eventually changing folk beliefs both in the majority and in the 
minority populations as a prerequisite for implementing LHR. 
According to his findings in Hungarian-speaking minority 
communities, the most powerful and recurring arguments brought 
against codified LHR are intelligibility, speak-X-in-X-land, and 
"the bread reason" (you/we eat X-ish bread so you/we should speak X-
ish). "The Common Language Problem" by Mart Rannut (pp. 99-114) 
examines the relationships between language, power and society in 
time and as reflected in three language-policy models: language 
spread, nation building, and minority-language protection. Although 
the main focus has to remain on the power relationship between 
nation building and minority-language protection in the modern 
world, he ends his paper by calling for a multiple language planning 
model which will also include the dimension of language spread and 
be constrained by LHR. 

The second section of the volume is dedicated to "Legal issues". 
Fernand de Varennes examines "The Existing Rights of Minorities in 
International Law" (pp. 117-146). The first observation non-lawyers 
have to come to terms with is how ambigious and subject to 
interpretation law is and how much of it belongs to the "being nice" 
category as opposed to categorically enforceable laws. Second, 
international law may come to the rescue of those who are not 
protected by national laws. Significant progress has been made 
since The Charter of the United Nations (1945) and The Universal 
Declaration of Human Rights (1948) where language is not mentioned 
at all and even the state of affairs reported on in Skutnabb-Kangas 
& Phillipson (1994), for example the 1996 Barcelona Universal 
Declaration of Linguistic Human Rights or the 1996 The Hague 
Recommendations Regarding the Education Rights of National 
Minorities & Explanatory Note. And yet, Article 27 of the UN 
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966/1994) 
still grants the best legally binding protection of language 
minorities and the implementation of LHR still leaves much to be 
desired on the global scale even when the existence of national and 
regional differences is recognized (cf. also Skutnabb-Kangas p. 212 
in this volume). Bart Driessen's "The Slovak State Language Law as 
a Trade Law Problem" (pp. 147-165) is an interesting case study 
where the author convincingly argues that in the absence of an 
effective system protecting the rights of minorities such as the 
Hungarians in Slovakia, both national and international trade law 
provisions greatly enhance them. 

The third section focuses on "Market issues". In the first paper, 
"Market Forces, Language Spread and Linguistic Diversity" (pp. 169-
186), Francois Grin disproves the widely held and naive view that 
market forces are alone responsible for the spread of some languages 
and the decline of others. As a matter of fact, he demonstrates that 
the initial impetus of language spread has to be traced to non-
market forces and that market forces may actually help preserve a 
qualified, albeit not unrestricted form of diversity. This point is 
illustrated from the Gaeltacht where the "Gaillimh le Gaeilge" 
project initiated in 1988 has successfully combined the promotion of 
English-Irish bilingualism and the generation of income. Grin ends 
his paper with the optimistic hope that the "Recognition of non-
material goals, such as environmental quality or linguistic 
diversity, can usefully put some priorities back into place: market 
forces are there to serve welfare, not the other way round." (p. 
184). This optimism is not shared by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas who in 
the following paper addresses "Linguistic Diversity, Human Rights 
and the 'Free' Market" (pp. 187-222). According to her, human rights 
(political, economic, social and cultural) including LHR and the 
"free" market are incompatible because the "free" market eliminates 
the basis for human rights. As "free" market policies exempt economy 
from public control by over-ruling the sovereignty of individual 
states, a number of changes are brought about which are frequently 
subsumed under the effects of globalization: environmental 
degradation, linguicism and cultural genocide, growing economic and 
social inequalities, etc. These, in turn, create insecurity and 
conflict (Skutnabb-Kangas cites linguicism and cultural genocide as 
fundamental causes of ethnic conflicts and wars, p. 202) which 
provoke new waves of centralization, homogenization and contempt for 
human rights. The devastating effects of World Bank and IMF 
structural adjustment programs to human rights, quoted in this (p. 
195) as in many other studies, are just an example. In short, while 
there is a gross conflict of interests between free market forces 
and human rights, it can only be hoped that human rights will serve 
as correctives to the free market. However, unless a radical 
redistribution of resources occurs at the same time, future 
prospects for mankind are bleak. As far as linguistic diversity is 
concerned, this implies the linguicism of 90% of the world's oral 
languages by the year 2100. Which may be fatal in a sense quite 
unexpected to the layman: while early research recognized a 
correlation between cultural and linguistic diversity and 
biodiversity, there is growing evidence for the reciprocal causality 
of the relationship (cf. also Skutnabb-Kangas 2000, Ch. 2). 
Ironically enough, the menace globalization and free market forces 
represent to biodiversity continues to receive much more attention 
than the menace cultural and linguistic diversity is under. Amir 
Hassanpour's contribution "Language Rights in the Emerging World 
Linguistic Order: The State, the Market and Communication 
Technologies" (pp. 223-241) documents the rise (starting in May 
1994) and (erstwhile, cf. "Postcript (July 1999)", pp. 237-239) fall 
of a virtual Kurdish state by means of Med-TV, a private satellite 
television station. Interestingly enough, this virtual state was 
able to grant its "citizens" the enjoyment of language rights in a 
way unprecedented in the history of the Kurdish people. It can be 
read as a sequel to Skutnabb-Kangas & Bucak (1994). 

The fourth section examines "Language planning issues". Uldis 
Ozolins discusses "Separating Language from Ethnicity: The Paradoxes 
of Strict Policies and Increasing Social Harmony in the Baltic 
States" (pp. 245-262). Since the Baltic states regained their 
independence in 1991, the language and (in the case of Estonia and 
Latvia) related citizenship policies have attracted the criticism of 
the international community and a succession of visits by 
commissions representing international organizations and charged to 
investigate the situation. As a matter of fact, the Baltic states 
constitute a rare case where the present so-called majority 
languages continue to suffer from the minorization of the Soviet 
period to an extent where official monolingualism is the only policy 
which will guarantee the maintenance of the so-called majority 
languages while a continuation of the Soviet policy of bilingualism 
with Russian would have lead to the inevitable eradication of 
Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian. It has to be born in mind that 
speakers of Russian and other minority languages for example have 
access to mother tongue education. At independence in 1991, Estonian 
and Latvian were more severely menaced by Russian than Lithuanian; 
hence the tying of access to citizenship to proficiency in the 
majority language in Estonia and Latvia but not in Lithuania. There 
has not been any ultimative verdict from the international 
community. However, it is significant that ethnic tension in the 
Baltic states has actually decreased during the 1990es. Another 
issue largely ignored in the international debate is that the rate 
of application for naturalization among those eligible has been 
surprisingly low as many residents seem to have personal reasons for 
not trading their old Soviet passports for the citizenship of a 
Baltic state. In "Language Policy in a Changing Society: 
Problematic Issues in the Implementation of International Linguistic 
Human Rights" (pp. 263-276), Ina Druviete concentrates on the case 
of Latvia. First, she discusses language use in private enterprises 
and companies and concludes that this is not a case where LHR 
protecting the use of language in the private sphere should apply. 
In the second part of her paper, she argues that the inflection and 
translitteration of foreign names belong to "processes pertaining to 
the language system" (p. 274). Whether this is true in the case of 
translitteration is, of course, debatable. 

The final section of the collection deals with "Education and 
ethnicity issues". Istvan Muzsnai discusses "The Recognition of Sign 
Language: A Threat or the Way to a Solution?" in Hungary (pp. 279-
296). One of the main problems is the difficulty of distinguishing 
medically deaf from hard-of-hearing children at an early age. 
Csanyi, an influential educator of the deaf in Hungary, has 
therefore recommended early education through the acoustic channel 
for both groups. However, as Muzsnai argues, this deprives young 
medically deaf children of their LHR. Muznai makes a case for 
bilingual education for the deaf in Hungary at all levels; it 
remains to be seen how long this will take to become a reality. 
Andrea Szalai addresses "Linguistic Human Rights Problems among 
Romani and Boyash Speakers in Hungary with Special Attention to 
Education" (pp. 297-315). In the socialist era, the Gypsy population 
of Hungary (altogether 0,32 million or 3% of the entire national 
population in 1971 and 0,5 million or 5% in 1993-94) was regarded 
as a social problem rather than a minority and assimilation was seen 
as the only path to integration. Little difference was made between 
native speakers of Romani and Boyash who according to the 1971 
survey represented 21% and 8% of the Gypsy population, respectively. 
However, Boyash detached itself from the Romani language at least 
150 years ago and now constitutes a separate language which is why 
the Boyash use "Gypsy" as their external self-definition. As a 
matter of fact, post-1989 language-planning efforts have focused on 
Romani and Boyash as separate languages. However, the language 
certificates which it has been possible to take in Romani and in 
Boyash since 1992 and 1996, respectively, both certify that the 
holder has passed an exam in the "Gypsy language". The Hungarian 
Minority and Education Acts of 1993 both grant LHR to the Gypsies 
but the implementation of these rights continues to reflect the old 
view of Gypsies not as a minority but as a social problem. In 
addition, the misconception that all Hungarian Gypsies are bilingual 
leads to cases of serious violation of LHR. Szalai sees the most 
urgent tasks in the harmonization of status and corpus planning 
measures. In the realm of corpus planning and implementation, 
speakers of Boyash find themselves in a disadvantaged position vis-
a-vis speakers of Romani since no high register of Boyash existed 
previous to the 1990es. The topic of the last paper by Klara Sandor 
is "Contempt for Linguistic Human Rights in the Service of the 
Catholic Church: The Case of the Csangos" (pp. 317-331). The Csangos 
are speakers of roofless dialects of Hungarian who migrated from 
Hungaria to Moldavia, Rumania, in two waves (14th-15th and 16th-18th 
centuries). The Catholic religion constitutes the core element of 
their ethnic identity and it is only for this reason that the 
Catholic Church and the Vatican have been able to exert the key role 
in the linguicism of Csango: today, 62 000 out of a total of 240 000 
Csangos are bilingual in Csango Hungarian and Rumanian while the 
rest are monolingual speakers of the national language. Rome took 
over all Catholic activities in Moldavia in the early 17th century 
and it can be said that the Csangos have been isolated from speakers 
of other dialects of Hungarian since then. Today, intelligibility 
with Transylvanian Hungarian is practically not given; unlike the 
Hungarians of Transylvania, the Csangos are not recognized as a 
minority in Rumania. The Rumanian state argues that they are 
"Hungarianized Rumanians" who must be assimilated. Until recently, 
the Vatican has acted according to the mirror argument that 
Rumanians are Catholics turned Othodox who should be reintegrated 
into the Catholic Church. By consequence, the linguicism of Csango 
is a result of a conspiracy between the Vatican and its local 
representatives and the Rumanian state. 

 In addition to the contributions mentioned, the volume obviously 
contains a Table of Contents (pp. v-vi), Lists of Maps (p. vii), 
Tables (pp. vii-viii), Figures (p. viii), the Contributors (pp. ix-
xi, with short biographic notes), and an Index (pp. 332-346). 


As indicated above, the collection under review is a state-of-the-
art presentation of the field of LHR. It testifies both to the 
progress which has been made and to the immense body of work which 
lies ahead. It also testifies to methodological progress: multi- and 
cross-disciplinary approaches are now starting to bear fruit as 
those interested in LHR who, by necessity, come from various fields 
of study, have sought more profound understanding and integration of 
the contributions of each other�s fields. A particular gain of this 
collection also lies in the integration of the approaches of 
"language as a right" and "language as a resource" which before 
seemed clearly distinct if not incompatible. The choice of papers 
serves the reader with both overviews of general issues and case 
studies of particular situations where LHR are at stake. Doubtlessly 
the venue of the conference is at the origin of a concentration of 
case studies on Hungarian and Central European issues which 
constitutes a welcome addition to language/geographic areas such as 
the Baltic states more frequently dealt with in recent LHR 
literature. There is very little to say in terms of criticism. The 
collection under review cannot convey an integral picture of the 
complex field of LHR and research on them nor does it pretend to do 
so. I am persuaded that it will get more people from different 
fields interested and involved in LHR and in so doing, it will have 
attained a very valuble goal. This collection makes for both 
demanding and rewarding reading - actually, several readings. 
Speaking of which: this may of course lie in the eye of the 
beholder, but for some reason I missed a definition of LHR adopted 
by all authors, especially as opposed to "language rights" which are 
presumedly more far-reaching and less binding than LHR (cf. 
Skutnabb-Kangas 2000:498). The two terms appear to be used almost 
interchangeably by some authors of the volume under review. As far 
as my review copy was concerned, a slight disappointment was 
constituted by the fact that pp. 275-290 were missing and that I 
found it impossible to get in touch with the editing company to have 
this state of affairs remedied as e-mail messages sent to addresses 
indicated on the back cover as well as on the web pages of the 
company kept bouncing back. Obviously e-mail still is not the 
predominant mode of communication in most parts of the world but I 
could not help lamenting how many people might thus be deterred from 
ordering this excellent book. 


Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove (2000): Linguistic Genocide in Education Or 
Worldwide Diversity and Human Rights? Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence 
Erlbaum Associates. 

Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove & Serta Bucak (1994): "Killing a mother tongue 
- how the Kurds are deprived of linguistic human rights". In: Tove 
Skutnabb-Kangas & Robert Phillipson (eds.), 347-370. 

Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove & Robert Phillipson (1994): "Linguistic human 
rights, past and present." In: Tove Skutnabb-Kangas & Robert 
Phillipson (eds.), 71-110. 

Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove & Phillipson, Robert (eds.), in collaboration 
with Mart Rannut (1994): Linguistic Human Rights. Overcoming 
Linguistic Discrimination. (Contributions to the Sociology of 
Language 67.) Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 

 The Reviewer: Dr.phil. Angela Bartens is Docent of Iberoromance 
Philology at the University of Helsinki. Her research interests 
include language contact including pidgins and creoles, 
sociolinguistics and applied sociolinguistics including language 
planning. E-mail: 

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