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See also: "Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and "Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights was approved on 6 June 1996 in Barcelona, Spain. It was the culmination of work by a committee of 50 experts under the auspices of "UNESCO. Signatories were 220 persons from over 90 states, representing NGOs and International PEN Clubs Centres. This Declaration was drawn up in response to calls for linguistic rights as a fundamental human right at the 12th Seminar of the International Association for the Development of Intercultural Communication and the Final Declaration of the General Assembly of the International Federation of Modern Language Teachers. Linguistic rights in this Declaration stems from the language community, i.e., collective rights, and explicitly includes both regional and immigrant minority languages.

Overall, this document is divided into sections including: Concepts, General Principles, Overall linguistic regime (which covers Public administration and official bodies, Education, Proper names, Communications media and new technologies, Culture, and The socioeconomic sphere), Additional Dispositions, and Final Dispositions. So for instance, linguistic rights are granted equally to all language communities under Article 10, and to everyone, the right to use any language of choice in the private and family sphere under Article 12. Other Articles details the right to use or choice of languages in education, public, and legal arenas.

There are a number of other documents on the international level granting linguistic rights. The UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966 makes international law provision for protection of minorities. Article 27 states that individuals of linguistic minorities cannot be denied the right to use their own language.

The UN Declaration of the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1992. Article 4 makes "certain modest obligations on states".[23] It states that states should provide individuals belonging to minority groups with sufficient opportunities for education in their mother tongue, or instruction with their mother tongue as the medium of instruction. However, this Declaration is non-binding.

A third document adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989, which makes provisions for linguistic rights is the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In this convention, Articles 29 and 30 declare respect for the child's own cultural identity, language and values, even when those are different from the country of residence, and the right for the child to use his or her own language, in spite of the child's minority or immigrant status.

Regional platform[edit]

List of Linguistic Rights in Constitutions (Africa)

Linguistic rights in Africa have only come into focus in recent years. In 1963, the "Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was formed to help defend the fundamental human rights of all Africans. It adopted in 1981 the "African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which aims to promote and protect fundamental human rights, including language rights, in Africa. In 2004, fifteen member states ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Establishing the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. The Court is a regional, legal platform that monitors and promotes the AU states' compliance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. It is currently pending a merger with the "Court of Justice of the African Union.

In 2001 the President of the Republic of Mali, in conjunction with the OAU, set up the foundation for the "African Academy of Languages (ACALAN) to "work for the promotion and harmonisation of languages in Africa". Along with the inauguration of the Interim Governing Board of the ACALAN, the "African Union declared 2006 as the Year of African Languages (YOAL).[24]

In 2002, the OAU was disbanded and replaced by the African Union (AU). The AU adopted the Constitutive Act previously drawn up by the OAU in 2000. In Article 25, it is stated that the working languages of the Union and its institutions are Arabic, English, French and Portuguese, and if possible, all African languages. The AU also recognizes the national languages of each of its member institutions as stated in their national constitutions. In 2003, the AU adopted a protocol amending the Act such that working languages shall be renamed as official languages, and would encompass Spanish, Kiswahili and "any other African language" in addition to the four aforementioned languages . However, this Amendment has yet to be put into force, and the AU continues to use only the four working languages for its publications.

European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, "Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and "List of Linguistic Rights in Constitutions (Europe)

The "Council of Europe adopted the "European Convention on Human Rights in 1950, which makes some reference to linguistic rights. In Article 5.2, reasons for arrest and charges have to be communicated in a language understood by the person. Secondly, Article 6.3 grants an interpreter for free in a court, if the language used cannot be spoken or understood.[25]

The Council for Local and Regional Authorities, part of the Council of Europe, formulated the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in 1992.[26] This Charter grants recognition, protection, and promotion to regional and/or minority languages in European states, though explicitly not immigrant languages, in domains of "education, judicial authorities, administrative and public services, media, cultural activities, and socio-economic life"[23] in Articles 8 to 13. Provisions under this Charter are enforced every three years by a committee. States choose which regional and/or minority languages to include.

The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities was implemented by the Council of Europe in 1995 as a "parallel activity"[23] to the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. This Framework makes provisions for the right of national minorities to preserve their language in Article 5, for the encouragement of "mutual respect and understanding and co-operation among all persons living on their territory",[27] regardless of language, especially in "fields of education, culture and the media"[27] in Article 6. Article 6 also aims to protect persons from discrimination based on language.

Another document adopted by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly in 1998 is the Recommendation 1383 on Linguistic Diversification.[28] It encourages a wider variety of languages taught in Council of Europe member states in Article 5. It also recommends language education to include languages of non-native groups in Article 8.

Language rights in different countries[edit]


Constitution of Austria

Under the Austrian Constitutional Law (1867), Article 9 grants the right to maintenance and development of nationality and language to all ethnic minorities, equal rights to all languages used within the regions in domains of education, administration and public life, as well as the right to education in their own language for ethnic communities, without the necessity of acquiring a second language used in the province.[29]


Constitution of Canada

The "Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) grants positive linguistic rights, by guaranteeing state responsibility to the French and English language communities. Section 23 declares three types of rights for Canadian citizens speaking French or English as their mother tongue and are minorities in a region.[30] The first accords right of access to instruction in the medium of the mother tongue. The second assures educational facilities for minority languages. The third endows French and English language minorities the right to maintain and develop their own educational facilities. This control can take the form of “exclusive decision-making authority over the expenditure of funds, the appointment and direction of the administration, instructional programs, the recruitment of teachers and personnel, and the making of agreements for education and services”.[31] All of these rights apply to primary and secondary education, sustained on public funds, and depend on the numbers and circumstances.


Minority languages of Croatia
Minority languages in Croatia (official use at local level)

"Croatian language is the stated to be the official language of Croatia in Article 3 of the Croatian constitution. The same Article of Constitution stipulates that in some of local units, with the Croatian language and "Latin script, in official use may be introduce another language and "Cyrillic or some other script under the conditions prescribed by law. The only example of the use of minority language at the regional level currently is "Istria County where official languages are Croatian and "Italian. In eastern Croatia, in "Joint Council of Municipalities, at local (municipal) level is introduced "Serbian as co official language. Each municipality, where a certain minority has more than one third of the population, can if it wants to introduce a minority language in official use.


Constitution of Finland

Finland has one of the most overt linguistic rights frameworks.[4] Discrimination based on language is forbidden under the basic rights for all citizens in "Finland. Section 17 of the Constitution of Finland explicitly details the right to one’s language and culture, although these languages are stated as either Finnish or Swedish. This right applies to in courts of law and other authorities, as well as translated official documents. There is also overt obligation of the state to provide for the “cultural and societal needs of the Finnish-speaking and Swedish-speaking populations of the country on an equal basis”.[32] Other language communities, the ones specifically mentioned are indigenous groups, are granted the right to maintenance and development of their own language. There is an additional right for the specific group, the Sami, that they may use the Sami language when communicating with authorities. The deaf community is also granted the right to sign language and interpretation or translation.

Regulations regarding the rights of linguistic minorities in Finland, insist on the forming of a district for the first 9 years of comprehensive school education in each language, in municipalities with both Finnish- and Swedish-speaking children, as long as there is a minimum of 13 students from the language community of that mother tongue.[4][33]


Constitution of India

The constitution of India was first drafted on January 26, 1950. It is estimated that there are about 1500 languages in India. Article 334-335 declared that the official languages of India for communication with centre will be Hindi and English. There are 22 official languages identified by constitution. India does not have a national language.[34] Article 345 states that “the Legislature of a state may by law adopt any one or more of the languages in use in the State or Hindi as the language or languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes of that State: Provided that, until the Legislature of the State otherwise provides by law, the English language shall continue to be used for those official purposes within the State for which it was being used immediately before the commencement of this Constitution”.[35]


Languages of Ireland

Language rights in "Ireland are recognised in the "Constitution of Ireland and in the Official Languages Act.

"Irish is the national and first official language according to the Constitution (with English being a second official language). The Constitution permits the public to conduct its business – and every part of its business – with the state solely through Irish.

On 14 July 2003, the "President of Ireland signed the "Official Languages Act 2003 into law and the provisions of the Act were gradually brought into force over a three-year period. The Act sets out the duties of public bodies regarding the provision of services in Irish and the rights of the public to avail of those services.

The use of Irish on the country's traffic signs is the most visible illustration of the state's policy regarding the official languages. It is a statutory requirement that placenames on signs be in both Irish and English except in the "Gaeltacht, where signs are in Irish only.


Languages of Mexico

Language rights were recognized in Mexico in 2003 with the General Law of Linguistic Rights for the Indigenous Peoples which established a framework for the conservation, nurturing and development of indigenous languages. It recognizes the countries Many indigenous languages as coofficial National languages, and obligates government to offer all public services in indigenous languages.[36][37][38][39][40][41] As of 2014 the goal of offering most public services in indigenous languages has not been met.


Languages of Pakistan

Pakistan uses English ("Pakistani English) and "Urdu as official languages. Although Urdu serves as the national language and lingua franca and is understood by most of the population, it is natively spoken by only 8% of the population. English is not natively used as a first language, but, for official purposes, about 49% of the population is able to communicate in some form of English.[42] However, major regional languages like "Punjabi (spoken by the majority of the population), "Sindhi, "Pashto, "Saraiki, "Hindko, "Balochi, "Brahui and "Shina have no official status at the federal level.


The Republic of Poland declares that it shall apply the "European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in accordance with the Act on national and ethnic minorities and on regional language, dated 6 January 2005 [3].


Constitution of Spain

Spanish language is the stated to be the official language of Spain in Article 3 of the Spanish constitution, being the learning of this language compulsory by this same article. However, the constitution makes provisions for other languages of Spain to be official in their respective communities. An example would be the use of the Basque language in the "Basque Autonomous Community (BAC).[43] Apart from Spanish, the other co-official languages are Basque, Catalan and Galician.[44]

United States[edit]

Constitution of the United States

Language rights in the "United States are usually derived from the "Fourteenth Amendment, with its Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses, because they forbid racial and ethnic discrimination, allowing language minorities to use this Amendment to claim their language rights.[45] One example of use of the Due Process Clauses is the "Meyer v. Nebraska case which held that a 1919 Nebraska law restricting foreign-language education violated the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Two other cases of major importance to linguistic rights were the "Yu Cong Eng v. Trinidad case, which overturned a language-restrictive legislation in the "Philippines, declaring that piece of legislation to be "violative of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Philippine Autonomy Act of Congress",[45] as well as the "Farrington v. Tokushige case, which ruled that the governmental regulation of private schools, particularly to restrict the teaching of languages other than English and "Hawaiian, as damaging to the migrant population of "Hawaii. Both of these cases were influenced by the Meyer case, which was a precedent.[45]

Disputes over linguistic rights[edit]

Basque, Spain[edit]

Basque language

The linguistic situation for Basque is a precarious one. The Basque language is considered to be a low language in "Spain, where, until about 1982, the Basque language was not used in administration.[43] In 1978, a law was passed allowing for Basque to be used in administration side by side with Spanish in the Basque autonomous communities.[43]

Between 1935 and 1975, the period of Franco’s régime, the use of Basque was strictly prohibited, and thus language decline begun to occur as well.[46] However, following the death of Franco, many Basque nationalists demanded that the Basque language be recognized.[46] One of these groups was Euskadi Ta Askatasun ("ETA). ETA had initially begun as a nonviolent group to promote Basque language and culture.[46] However, when its demands were not met, it turned violent and evolved into violent separatist groups. Today, ETA’s demands for a separate state stem partially from the problem of perceived linguistic discrimination.[46] However, ETA called a permanent cease-fire in October 2011.

Faroe Islands[edit]

Faroese language conflict

The "Faroese language conflict, which occurred roughly between 1908 and 1938, has been described as political and cultural in nature. The two languages competing to become the official language of the Faroe Islands were Faroese and Danish. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the language of the government, education and Church was Danish, whereas Faroese was the language of the people. The movement towards Faroese language rights and preservation was begun in the 1880s by a group of students. This spread to from 1920 onwards to a movement towards using Faroese in the religious and government sector. Faroese and Danish are now both official languages in the Faroe Islands.[47]


Nepal Bhasa movement

The "Newars of "Nepal have been struggling to save their "Nepal Bhasa language, culture and identity since the 1920s. Nepal Bhasa was suppressed during the "Rana (1846-1951) and "Panchayat (1960-1990) regimes leading to language decline. The Ranas forbade writing in "Nepal Bhasa and authors were jailed or exiled. Beginning in 1965, the Panchayat system eased out regional languages from the radio and educational institutions, and protestors were put in prison.[48]

After the reinstatement of democracy in 1990, restrictions on publishing were relaxed; but attempts to gain usage in local state entities side by side with "Nepali failed. On 1 June 1999, the Supreme Court forbade "Kathmandu Metropolitan City from giving official recognition to Nepal Bhasa, and "Rajbiraj Municipality and "Dhanusa District Development Committee from recognizing "Maithili.[49]

The Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007 recognizes all the languages spoken as mother tongues in Nepal as the national languages of Nepal. It says that Nepali in "Devanagari script shall be the language of official business, however, the use of mother tongues in local bodies or offices shall not be considered a barrier.[50] The use of national languages in local government bodies has not happened in practice, and discouragement in their use and discrimination in allocation of resources persist. Some analysts have stated that one of the chief causes of the Maoist insurgency, or the "Nepalese Civil War (1996-2006), was the denial of language rights and marginalization of ethnic groups.[51]

Sri Lanka[edit]

Sinhala Only Act

The start of the conflict regarding languages in "Sri Lanka goes as far back as the rule of the British. During the colonial period, English had a special and powerful position in Sri Lanka. The British ruled in Sri Lanka from the late eighteenth century to 1948. English was the official language of administration then. Just before the departure of the British, a “swabhasha” (your own language) movement was launched in a bid to phase out English slowly, replacing it with "Sinhala or "Tamil. However, shortly after the departure of the British the campaign, for various political reasons, evolved from advocating Sinhala and Tamil replacing English to just Sinhala replacing English.

In 1956, the first election after independence, the opposition won and the official language was declared to be Sinhala. The Tamil people were unhappy, feeling that they were greatly disadvantaged. Because Sinhala was now the official language, it made it easier for the people whose mother tongue was Sinhala to enter into government sector and also provided them with an unfair advantage in the education system. Tamils who also did not understand Sinhala felt greatly inconvenienced as they had to depend on others to translate official documents for them.

Both the Tamil and Sinhala-speaking people felt that language was crucial to their identity. The Sinhala people associated the language with their rich heritage. They were also afraid that, given that there were only 9 million speakers of the language at that time, if Sinhala was not the only official language it would eventually be slowly lost.[52] The Tamil people felt that the Sinhala-only policy would assert the dominance of the Sinhalese people and as such they might lose their language, culture and identity.[52]

Despite the unhappiness of the Tamil people, no big political movement was undertaken till the early 1970s. Eventually in May 1976, there was a publicl demand for a Tamil state. During the 1956 election the Federal party had replaced the Tamil congress. The party was bent on “the attainment of freedom for the Tamil-speaking people of Ceylon by the establishment of an autonomous Tamil state on the linguistic basis within the framework of a Federal Union of Ceylon".[52] However it did not have much success. Thus in 1972, the Federal Party, Tamil Congress and other organizations banded together into a new party called the “Tamil United Front”.

One of the catalysts for Tamil separation arose in 1972 when the Sinhala government made amendments to the constitution. The Sinhala government decided to promote Buddhism as the official religion, claiming that "it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism”.[52] Given that the majority of the Tamils were Hindus, this created unease. There was then a fear among the Tamils that people belonging to the “untouchable castes” would be encouraged to convert to Buddhism and then “brainwashed” to learn Sinhala as well.[52]

Another spur was also the impatience of Tamil youth in Sri Lanka. Veteran politicians noted that current youths were more ready to engage in violence, and some of them even had ties to certain rebel groups in South India. Also in 1974, there was conference of Tamil studies organized in "Jaffna. The conference turned violent. This resulted in the deaths of seven people. Consequently, about 40 – 50 Tamil youths in between the years of 1972 and 1975 were detained without being properly charged, further increasing tension.

A third stimulus was the changes in the criteria for University examinations in the early 1970s. The government decided that they wanted to standardize the university admission criteria, based on the language the entrance exams were taken in. It was noted that students who took the exams in Tamil scored better than the students who took it in Sinhala. Thus the government decided that Tamil students had to achieve a higher score than the students who took the exam in Sinhala to enter the universities. As a result, the number of Tamil students entering universities fell.

After the July 1977 election, relations between the Sinhalese and the Ceylon Tamil people became worse. There was flash violence in parts of the country. It is estimated about 100 people were killed and thousands of people fled from their homes. Among all these tensions, the call for a separate state among Tamil people grew louder.[52]

Quebec, Canada[edit]

Charter of the French Language

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

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