Regional Minorities, Immigrants, and Migrants: The Reframing of Minority Language Rights in Europe

53 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2009 Last revised: 4 Sep 2011

Date Written: January 23, 2009


Scholarly debate about minority language rights in Europe is usually framed in terms of concern with either regional language minorities (such as Basque speakers in Spain) or concern with immigrant language minorities (such as Turkish speakers in Germany), with the interests of the two groups being seen as distinct, or even opposed. As a consequence, scholarship in this area has thus far focused upon the fact that a two-tier system of rights exists, with both nation state governments and trans-European institutions privileging regional groupings, rather than immigrant groups, with little exploration of the relationship between the rights of the two different groupings. This Essay argues, in contrast, that in recent years, national governments and pan-European organizations have fundamentally altered their approach to the language rights of both national minorities and immigrant minorities - in part due to the role played by transnational language communities and European migrants - so that the rights of regional and immigrant language minorities may actually be converging. The Essay proposes that a close analysis of the recent recommendations of the Advisory Committee to the Committee of Ministers on the Framework Convention on National Minorities and the Committee of Experts on the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, combined with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice, reveals an emerging trend toward this fundamental reframing of minority language rights. The treaty bodies and the ECJ appear to be departing from the traditionally held view of language rights as inherently preservationist and only applicable to members of certain indigenous, territorially anchored minority communities, and are instead adopting a broader, more expansive, human-rights based interpretation of language laws. Treaty bodies and transnational courts also appear to be moving away from treating language groups as collective holders of language rights, to treating individual language speakers as the primary rights-holders. In line with this reframing, this Essay argues that the very instruments originally constructed to protect the rights of the hitherto privileged regional minority groups may also ultimately be employed to promote the rights of individual speakers of the as-yet less favored immigrant languages.

Suggested Citation

Elias, Stella Burch, Regional Minorities, Immigrants, and Migrants: The Reframing of Minority Language Rights in Europe (January 23, 2009). Berkley Journal of International Law (BJIL), Vol. 28, No. 1, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Stella Burch Elias (Contact Author)

University of Iowa - College of Law ( email )

Melrose and Byington
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States

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