The Group Right to Linguistic Security: Whose Rights, What Duties
GROUP RIGHTS, Judith Baker, ed., University of Toronto Press, 1994
Posted: 27 Jul 2011
Date Written: 1994
Recent debates about the viability of the concept of group rights implicate many important theoretical issues about the nature of rights, of right holders, and of the duties claimed of others. These issues are all important; however, it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that those arguing against group rights are motivated as much by deep political misgivings about the implications of recognizing this type of right as by strictly conceptual misgivings. The concern has to do with the implications for those upon whom duties will be imposed in the name of group rights. The skeptics worry that the rights claimed by groups will severely impair the well-being of individuals. As a practical matter this is a well-founded worry. One need not look far to find examples of group claims which would be seriously detrimental to individuals. However, that unattractive claims have been made merely shows that groups are not immune to power hunger. This has sometimes been used by critics of rights discourse as a reason for abandoning that discourse altogether. But no conceptual tool is incapable of being abused; nor is there any evidence that rights language is more susceptible to abuse than any other way of conceptualizing the moral and political issues at stake.
My central concern is to explore whether any group rights claims are valid and what consequences they have for others, not whether unsupportable claims may or are likely to be made.
This article outlines an account of one group right – the right to linguistic security – and some of its attendant duties in order to explore the cogency of the skeptic's concerns. As preface to this exercise, I outline my account of what it is to have a group right and attempt to clarify some of the issues in the conceptual debate. I conclude by demonstrating that my account of the right to linguistic security illuminates three recent language rights controversies that have come before the Canadian courts.
Keywords: Group Rights, Linguistic Security
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