Ethnic Minorities and Language Rights: The State, Identity and Culture in International Legal Discourse
Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 2-29, 2006
34 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2010
Date Written: August 20, 2010
This paper considers the role which international law can play in protecting the language-related interests of ethnic minorities. It argues that, by granting minorities certain ‘language rights’, international law has significant potential to advance the claims of minorities in this area. However, the conceptual framework within which these rights are interpreted and applied may limit the extent to which this potential is realised. In particular, the concepts of the state, identity and culture, which are central to the evaluation of language issues, are more complex than legal analysis generally allows. As a result, the bodies responsible for applying international law tend to ignore the constructed and contested nature of these concepts, and thus tend not to engage with the power relations involved in the construction of the state and the status of different languages, cultures and identities. This undermines the potential of international law to protect the interests of ethnic groups, as it tends to perpetuate existing power relations and to ‘fix’, rather than liberate, ethnic identities and cultures. In order for international law better to protect ethnic culture and identity, through the protection of language rights, moves within international law to reconceptualise the state, identity and culture need to be encouraged.
Keywords: international law, language rights, language policy, minority rights, state, identity, culture
JEL Classification: K10, K30, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation