LINGUIST List 6.1381

Mon Oct 9 1995

Disc: Linguistic Human Rights

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. "Anthea F Gupta", Re: 6.1341, Sum: Linguistic Human Rights

Message 1: Re: 6.1341, Sum: Linguistic Human Rights

Date: Thu, 05 Oct 1995 09:39:48 Re: 6.1341, Sum: Linguistic Human Rights
From: "Anthea F Gupta" <>
Subject: Re: 6.1341, Sum: Linguistic Human Rights

> Africa from Adams Bodomo:
> Althogh he believes that every child should have a right to have
> education in his/her mother-tongue, almost 90 per cent of adults
> cannot fully get benefits as citizens, because foreign languages such
> as English and French, which are former colonial languages, are still
> dominant in Africa. He insists that the ideals like rights to a
> democratic communication and free flow of information can only be
> fulfilled by the mother-tongue.

This view has been discussed by (among others) R B Le Page, Fasold, Sarah
Slabbert, and myself. It is a much more complex issue that mother tongue
right / colonial language wrong.

Firstly many children, especially in multilingual urban settings (Soweto,
Lagos, Bombay, Singapore....), grow up with many mother tongues. Fasold
reminds us that "mother tongue" is often defined for the child, often
based on male ancestral language. This is another kind of imposition.

Secondly (as we saw in South Africa in 1975) the denial of access to
languages of impowerment can be used to try to make sure that a
subordinate group stays subordinate. Education in the mother tongue
(assuming that can be identified) may need to be accompanied by changes
in the power structure and should NOT result in differential access to
languages of empowerment.

Thirdly, there are enormous practical and logistic problems in organising
education in multilingual settings. Including finding out mother
tongue(s?), matching teachers and pupils, developing materials,
defining the language, developing the written language.....

Fourthly, the requirement for children to have education in the mother
tongue can lead to an apartheid situation which may be socially divisive
and/or oppressive.


Fasold, Ralph. 1992. Vernacular language education reconsidered. In
Kingsley Bolton & Helen Kwok (eds). Sociolinguistics Today:
International Perspective (pp 281-299). London: Routledge.

Gupta, Anthea Fraser. 1994. The Step-Tongue: Children's English in
Singapore. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Le Page, R B. 1988. Some premises concerning the standardisation of
languages, with special reference to Caribbean Creole English. In John
Rickford (ed) Sociolinguistics and Pidgin-creole studies. IJSL 71, 25-36.

Slabbert, Sarah. Conference paper at AILA conference, Amsterdam 1993.
[Other references not available at the moment, sorry]


Anthea Fraser GUPTA

English Language & Literature
National University of Singapore
Kent Ridge e-mail:
Singapore 0511 telephone: (65) 772 3933
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