LINGUIST List 7.167

Fri Feb 2 1996

Disc: Moderators' note, Language Rights

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Helen Dry, Moderators' note on language rights
  2., Language Rights in Slovakia

Message 1: Moderators' note on language rights

Date: Fri, 02 Feb 1996 10:30:43 CST
From: Helen Dry <>
Subject: Moderators' note on language rights
Moderators' Note: Some of you may remember that we posted the LSA
Statement on Language Rights (vol-6-1636) as a "For Your Information" 
issue but discouraged discussion of it, because it took a political 
position. Several subscribers convinced us we were wrong: either we 
should not have posted the statement or we should have allowed discussion. 
So we are posting the response below, and we invite other comments.

We would like to ask, however, that you avoid calls to political action and
keep the discussion as temperate as possible. Language rights _should_
be discussed on LINGUIST--certainly it's a sociolinguistic issue--but, 
as LINGUIST moderators, we are wary of heated controversies because they 
so often put us in the position of either (a) publishing an attack on 
someone to 7600 of his/her colleagues or (b) acting like the Politeness 
Police and returning a message for further editing. Our policies 
require us to post only messages that have "substantial linguistic 
content" and are "professional in tone". Judgment calls on these
standards are admittedly difficult to make. But that is why we greatly
appreciate your help in keeping LINGUIST postings collegial and focussed
on linguistics. --Helen, Anthony, & Daniel
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Message 2: Language Rights in Slovakia

Date: Fri, 02 Feb 1996 12:30:16 EST
From: <>
Subject: Language Rights in Slovakia

Dear Linguists,

This is to bring to your attention the following information about 
the language rights situation in Slovakia.

 Slovak language law

 On 15 November, 1995 the National Council of the Slovak Republic
 approved "The law on the state language of the Slovak Republic",
 which took effect on 1 January 1996 (except for Section 10 on
 fines, which will take effect a year later). Below is a partial
 demonstration of the consequences of the law in light of one of the
 principles in the Linguistic Society of America's Statement on
 Language Rights (circulated on LINGUIST, 15 November 1995).

 [Background information on Slovakia: over 10% of Slovakia's
 population, about 600,000 people, are ethnic Hungarians, who are
 indigenous to southern Slovakia and constitute the majority of the
 population in hundreds of localities. Since 1990, under law
 428/1990 on the official language of the Slovak Republic, in
 localities with at least a 20 % minority population the minority
 language was used in official contacts. The new law on the state
 language has revoked that law.]

 The LSA Statement on Language Rights contains, among other things,
 the following principle:

 "At a minimum, all residents of the United States should be
 guaranteed the following linguistic rights:
 A. To be allowed to express themselves, publicly or privately, in
 the language of their choice."

 Under the Slovak State Language Law, citizens of Slovakia do not
 have the right to use "the language of their choice" in the
 following domains of language use, among others:

 - local government (according to Section 3, Paragraph 1)

 - a public transport bus driver talking to a fellow driver on the
 job (3, 2)

 - public announcements by local governments (3, 3, a)

 - sessions of local government; teachers' meeting in a state school
 (3, 3, b)

 - church bulletins (3, 3, c)

 - street signs (3, 3, d)

 - written submissions to local governments (3, 5)

 - elementary and secondary school-leaving certificates (4, 3)

 - the presentation of the program of cultural events such as poetry
 recitation, concerts etc. (5, 7)

 - legal documents relating to employment (8, 2)

 - verbal contact between health care workers and patients (8, 4)

 Under the same law, citizens of Slovakia may use a language other
 than the state language, but only at a cost. Four such cases are
 illustrated below by quoting the text of the law (according to the
 unabridged unofficial translation issued by CTK news agency,
 Prague, 13 December 1995).

 - Foreign audiovisual works aimed at children under 12 years must
 be dubbed into the state language. (Section 5, Paragraph 2)

 - Broadcasts by regional and local television channels, radio
 stations and radio facilities takes place in the state language.
 Other languages may be used only before the broadcast or after the
 broadcast of the given program in the state language. (5, 4)

 - Occasional publications designed for the public, catalogues for
 galleries, museums and libraries, programs for cinemas, theaters,
 concerts and other cultural events are issued in the state
 language. If necessary they may contain translations into other
 languages. (5, 6)

 - All signs, advertisements and announcements designed to inform
 the public, especially in shops, sports grounds, restaurants, in
 the street, on roads, at airports, bus and railway stations, in
 prisons and in public transport must be in the state language. They
 may be translated into other languages, but the text in other
 languages must follow after a text of equal length in the state
 language. (8, 6)

 According to Sections 9 and 10, enforcement of the said law will be
 carried out by the Ministry of Culture levying fines for violations
 of the law. For instance, a maximum of 250,000 Slovak Crowns can be
 the fine for violating Section 8, Paragraph 6 on signs,
 advertisements and announcements in shops, restaurants etc. A fine
 of up to 500,000 Crowns can be levied on violators of Section 5,
 Paragraph 4 on what amounts to compulsory airing of non-state
 language radio and TV programs in the state language as well. For
 comparison, note that the maximum fine for desecration of the
 Slovak national flag is 3,000 Crowns. The maximum fine for
 endangering Slovakia's nuclear safety equals the maximum language
 use violation fine (half a million Crowns).

 In a letter to the New York Times (Nov. 27, 1995) the Ambassador of
 the Slovak Republic in Washington, Branislav Lichardus stated that
 "This law governs only the use of the Slovak language. Use of
 minority languages in Slovakia will be included in a different law
 dedicated to this issue." As can be seen above, use of the Slovak
 language is governed such that in many important domains of
 language use citizens of Slovakia do not have the right to use the
 language of their choice. In other domains they have an unduly
 costly choice and are discriminated against.

 Miklos Kontra

 Department of Linguistics Fax: USA 517 432 2736
 Wells Hall Phone: USA 517 353 0740
 Michigan State University Email:
 East Lansing, MI 48824
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