Linguistic rights are the rights people have to use their language in private and public domain. They were first recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. We can also distinguish linguistic human rights, connected with the right to identity, which derive their legitimacy from human dignity.
One of the key aspects in the linguistic rights debate is the legal status of the minority languages users. Legal guarantees and language policy of the host society are crucial for the preservation and development of the minority languages and their communities. In fact, these factors may determine, to a significant extent, the survival or death of an endangered language.
Important international legal instruments for linguistic rights include the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Other documents, worth highlighting especially in the context of the right to education in a mother tongue, are the Convention on the Rights of a Child and the Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization.
The Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights acknowledges the right to be recognized as a member of a language community; the right to the use of one’s own language both in private and in public and the right to maintain and develop one’s own culture as inalienable personal rights, which may be exercised in any situation [Art.3 (1)]. The Declaration recognizes collective linguistic rights, related to language communities, such as the right for their own language and culture to be taught; the right of access to cultural services; the right to an equitable presence of their language and culture in the communications media and the right to receive attention in their own language from government bodies and in socioeconomic relations [Art.3 (2)]. Furthermore, the Declaration considers that assimilation (defined as acculturation which leads to replacement of the original cultural values and characteristics by the references and norms of the host society) must on no account be imposed and can only be the result of an entirely free choice.
The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages considers regional and minority languages to be an expression of cultural wealth. The Parties to the treaty are required to base their policies, legislation and practice on the need for resolute action to promote such languages in order to safeguard them, the facilitating and/or encouragement of the use of these languages, in speech and in writing, in public and in private life, as well as the provision of appropriate forms and means for the teaching and study of regional or minority languages at all appropriate levels (Art. 7).
Currently, the linguistic rights paradigm is articulated by two main academic movements (May 2005). The first one is the Language Ecology (LE) movement which situates the current significant loss of many of the world’s languages within a wider ecological framework and stresses the links between linguistic processes and the biological, social and cultural environment. Ecolinguistic research indicates that there is a correlation between biological and linguistic diversity which might be caused by the fact that traditional ecological knowledge is encoded in local languages (Gorenflo 2012; Oviedo & Maffi 2000; Harrison 2007). Linguistic diversity is, therefore, of strategic importance for the human kind and linguistic rights violation entails the loss of precious intellectual resources and ways of perception.
The second approach is the linguistic human rights (LHR) movement which stresses the need for the greater institutional protection of minority languages and their speakers, both nationally and internationally. The followers of this approach highlight the inadequate educational practices which, among other factors, contribute to the loss and erosion of cultural and linguistic diversity.
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