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Rearticulating the case for minority language rights

While advocacy of minority language rights (MLR) has become well established in sociolinguistics, language policy and planning and the wider human rights literature, it has also come under increased criticism in recent times for a number of key limitations. In this paper, I address directly three current key criticisms of the MLR movement. The first is a perceived tendency towards essentialism in articulations of language rights. The second is the apparent utopianism and artificiality of 'reversing language shift' in the face of wider social and political 'realities'. And the third is that the individual mobility of minority-language speakers is far better served by shifting to a majority language. While acknowledging the perspicacity of some of these arguments, I aim to rearticulate a defence of minority language rights that effectively addresses these key concerns. This requires, however, a sociohistorical/sociopolitical rather than a biological/ecological analysis of MLR. In addition, I will argue that a sociohistorical/sociopolitical defence of MLR can problematise the positions often adopted by minority language rights' critics themselves, particularly those who defend majoritarian forms of linguistic essentialism and those who sever the instrumental/identity aspects of language. Implications for language policy and planning will also be discussed.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
May, S. (2003). Rearticulating the case for minority language rights. Current Issues in Language Planning. 4(2), 95-125.
The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the journal, Current Issues in Language Planning, published by Multilingual Matters. (c) S. May 2003.