Language Rights as Cultural Rights - a European Perspective
Cultural Human Rights, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, pp. 247-283, 2008
Posted: 9 Oct 2009
Date Written: October 3, 2008
For the purpose of this paper, we will define language rights as fundamental rights protecting language-related acts and values. The term ‘fundamental’ denotes the fact that these rights are entrenched in the constitution of a country, or in an international treaty binding on that country. In this sense, language rights constitute limits to the ordinary operation of the politics of language within a state (or within a region or a supranational entity such as the European Union) which is expressed in statutes and administrative acts regulating the use of languages. A new development of the recent decades is that these fundamental rights for individuals are no longer only to be found in (some) national constitutions, but that European law (comprising both Council of Europe and European Union norms) increasingly sets limits to national language policies in order to protect the linguistic rights of individuals.
In the following pages, we will start with an exploration of the national constitutional law of European countries, in recognition of the fact that linguistic rights are still primarily defined and regulated within the national context. This exploration will be structured on the basis of a typology of distinct constitutional models (section II). After that, we will turn to the analysis of the common standards that have been developed at a transnational European level, in the context of the Council of Europe (section III) and also in the context of the European Union (section IV). Although these common European standards have limited the previously complete discretion that states had in regulating language use, their relevance is limited and uneven. There is, arguably, not yet a “comprehensive and coherent package” of European (or international) linguistic rights, but it may be in the making.
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