LINGUIST List 6.509

Wed 05 Apr 1995

Disc: Language policy

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  1. "Tove Skutnabb-Kangas", Latvian Language Policy, from Ina Druviete

Message 1: Latvian Language Policy, from Ina Druviete

Date: Mon, 3 Apr 1995 15:21:26 +Latvian Language Policy, from Ina Druviete
From: "Tove Skutnabb-Kangas" <>
Subject: Latvian Language Policy, from Ina Druviete

We have Dr Ina Druviete, one of the best experts of Latvian language
policy, visiting from Riga for three months. I showed her the
discussion on this list about language policy in the baltics and
she wrote some comments. It is possible to contact her on my
email ( until mid-June. Here are the comments:

 Concerning discussion about language policy in Latvia:
 First of all, I am very glad that Latvian language policy have
been discussed in the international area. An international evaluation
will be in favour for the future steps in language policy in Latvia
(new version of Language Law is in preparation!) and, perhaps, the
analysis of Latvian model could provide new opportunities for
comparative language policy in multilingual countries.
 I would like to make following comment to the previous discussion:
 To my mind the core question of language policy in Latvia for
international observers is status of the Russian language (or
collective linguistic rights of Russian-speaking population) in
Latvia. Are these rights violated by granting the status of the
official state language only to the Latvian language?
 We can answer this question from two points of view differing
in our attitude to the history.
 a) we recognize that the independent state of Latvia (established
1918) had been incorporated into the USSR by force in 1940; since
then massive ethnodemographic changes took place (e.g. Latvians - 77%
in 1935, 53,5% in 1993, Slavs - 10% in 1935, 42% in 1993) and as a
consequence of Soviet language policy (Latvian-Russian bilingualism
8O%, Russian-Latvian bilingualism - 20%) marked decrease of
sociolinguistic functions of Latvian took place. When in 1991
the Republic of Latvia was reestablished the goal of language policy
was elimination of harmful legacy of Soviet period and historic
unjustice done to the Latvian nation by changing the hierarchy of
languages spoken in Latvia step-by-step (do not forget about 3-year
transition period during which free-of charge language tuition during
regular working hours was provided to non-Latvians).
 b) we tend to consider only contemporary realities - there are
about half of Russian-speaking population, why only one official
 The reason is not in emotional, even not in historical but in
sociolinguistic characteristics. Latvia is the only ethnogenetic
territory for Latvians (1.395.500 people in 1993). The language in
concurentship is Russian - flourishing world language with more than
150 million L1 speakers and the some number of L2 speakers, the
previous state language in Latvia de facto and the state language of
great and powerful neighbour - Russia ( perhaps, the campaign about
violations of LHR in Latvia is only a smokescreen which masks other
social and political concerns?). First, in such situations Language
Laws have defensive functions - to protect the weaker, in our case,
Latvian. If there be an official status for Russian, too, the
asymmetrical bilingualism would become even more deeper and Latvian
would loose more and more functions. Second, there are no special
Russian regions in Latvia. There is no country in the world with
several state language in the whole territory of the state, not only
at the federal level (Finland and Canada (New Brunswick) are not the
case). Third, the integration of Latvian society on the basis of
Latvian has begun an normal, peaceful though slow process
of integration is going. Why interrupt it and stimulate two- community
state (without fence in the middle) with all the political
consequences (do not forget the incomparable scope of
communities involved)? From theoretical point of view it would be
possible to discuss the status of Russian when positions of Latvian
would be strong enough but not at the nearest future. At present the
status of Russian in Latvia de jure and de facto must be the same as
for the other minority languages in Latvia.
 Thus, if we support any point of view, it makes that the only model
for language policy in Latvia is sharing the sociolinguistic functions
between state language - Latvian - and other languages to guarantee
the preservation and development of all the languages spoken in
Latvia. If we recognize that a whole group of non-state-
language speakers living permanently in independent state has human
rights to stay monolingual - an unsolvable and unprecendent situation
would be created.
 So language policy in Latvia has to be assessed in light of the
consequences of recent past. Not a lot of outside commentators mention
the weak positions of Latvian in Latvia. It would be absurd to speak
about rights of Danish in Denmark but there are a lot of linguistic
human rights violations of Latvians in Latvia (it is not possible to
do everyday communication without command of Russian even till now,
6 years after adopting the Language Law).It is not an axiom that
titular nations alvays violate the rights of minorities. Russian in
Latvia is minority language only from pragmatic point of view (i. e.
the rights to use it in private life, in culture, education etc.;
these rights for Russian are guaranteed by law and realized in
practice in Latvia); from theoretical point of view there is a lot of
contradictions with traditional minority definition (almost the same
size, are in dominant positions in economy, have majority, not
minority psychology) so I avoid to use term "minority"
referring to Russians in Latvia without comments. Latvia gives us an
example that also the official state language can be an endangered
language at the same time so it could need special protection.
 About AFD film. It has to be evaluated as demagogical because: 1)
legal and emotional issues are mixed up, 2) facts have been driven
out of general context, 3) the points of view of only one from two
language collectives involved have been reflected. By the way, this
film is an excellent example to approach "Let=ABs forget
the past, let=ABs consider only present reality!"

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: Tr=F8nninge Mose 3, DK-4420
Regstrup, Denmark, phone 45-53-46 44 12
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