LINGUIST List 6.258

Mon 20 Feb 1995

Disc: Linguistic Human rights (Latvia's language policy)

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  1. MARK ROBERT HALE, Re: 6.192 Latvia's language policy
  2. "Tove Skutnabb-Kangas", linguistic human rights violations; Latvia

Message 1: Re: 6.192 Latvia's language policy

Date: Sat, 18 Feb 1995 19:48:02 Re: 6.192 Latvia's language policy
Subject: Re: 6.192 Latvia's language policy

I find the suggestion that the imposition of "national
languages" (= the dialect of those temporarily in power)
on minority populations is acceptable to linguists quite
shocking, and references to such (non-linguistic) issues
as "citizenship" and "ethnicity" disturbing. Surely,
as linguists, we do not favor any LEGAL restrictions
on language/dialect use under any circumstances. If
native (or what do I care, non-native) speakers of Russian
in Latvia want to have a Russian-language TV-station,
newspaper, or whatever, who amongst us would favor
forbidding it? Am I missing something?

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Message 2: linguistic human rights violations; Latvia

Date: Mon, 20 Feb 1995 13:33:38 linguistic human rights violations; Latvia
From: "Tove Skutnabb-Kangas" <>
Subject: linguistic human rights violations; Latvia

Mark Mitton was confused as to what constitutes "linguistic human
rights violations". Can I recommend the articles in our new edited
book (Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove & Phillipson, Robert (Eds., in
collaboration with Mart Rannut) 1994. Linguistic Human Rights.
Overcoming linguistic discrimination. Berlin & New York: Mouton de
Gruyter. Series Contributions to the Sociology of Language, 67. Mart is
the Director General of the Estonian Language Board and is just now
seconded for a year to the Council of Baltic Sea States Commissioner
on Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, including the Rights of
persons, Belonging to Minorities, in Copenhagen. He was also the
Advisor on Human rights to the Estonian president, Lennart Meri. In
the introduction to the book Robert, Mart and I try to clarify the
concept of linguistic human rights (and wrongs, i.e. violations), and
give examples. Mart's own article discusses the Estonian situation
which is similar to the Latvian situation. Several other articles
(e.g. Eduardo Hernandez-Chavez, Jim Cummins, Rainer Enrique Hamel)
also analyse the American situation. Ina Druviete from Riga gave an
excellent paper in Fribourg, Switzerland, in September 1994 about the
alkleged linguistic human rights violations in Latvia at the 4th
International Conference on Language and Law, organized by the
Institute of Federalism, Iniv. of Fribourg (contact person Dr.Maryse
Aebischer) - the proceedings will be published shortly. Several UN,
CSCE etc missions to Estonia and Latvia have found that there are no
grave human rights violations. Obviously everybody should have the
right to learn at least one of the official languages in the country
where they are resident. This presupposes good teaching, bilingual
teachers, etc. At the same time everybody should have the right to
learn their mother tongue, both orally and in writing, up to a high
level. Both of these are individual rights. Collectively, a group
(minority or majority) must have the right to exist, i.e, to be
"different" linguistically and culturally, and to maintain and develop
their mother tongue. The state has the duty to enable individuals and
groups to maintain these rights. At the same time the state has the
right to prescribe certain linguistic prerequisites for jobs in the
official sector. It would seem that, for instance, all state employees
can be asked to know the official language of a country at a certain
level (i.e. if a Spanish-speaker in the U.S. wants to have certain
jobs, it is legitimate to demand that they know English at the level
appropriate for that job). Likewise, the state can prescribe that it
is necessary for certain jobs to know a specified minority language
(e.g. Spanish), at a level appropriate to that job. In taking that
right, the state also has the duty to enable citizens to learn those
languages, i.e. for minorities to learn English and for the majority
population and the minority polulations to learn the minority
languages. - One of the big difficulties in most discussions about
linguistic human rights is that people so often have either-or
attitudes (if you want to maintain your Spanish, it means you won't
learn English well; or: if you want to learn English, it may mean
sacrificing your Spanish, at least to some extent). Subtractive
language learning as the only alternative offered is in my view a
violation of minorities' linguistic human rights. - These issues are
enormously complex - but an interesting fairly new area of study for
linguists. Fernand de Varennes will have a new book out on language,
human rights and minorities in July - warmly recommended. Tove

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, Roskilde University, Dept of Languages and
Culture, 3.2.4., PB 260, DK-4000 Roskilde, Denmark, phone 45-46-75 77
11/2376, fax 45-46-75 44 10, private: Troenninge Mose 3, DK-4420
Regstrup, Denmark, phone 45-53-46 44 12
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