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Review of  Language: A Right and Resource

Reviewer: Angela Bartens
Book Title: Language: A Right and Resource
Book Author: Miklss Kontra Robert Phillipson Tibor Varady Tove Anita Skutnabb-Kangas
Publisher: Central European Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 11.2075

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Kontra, Miklos, Robert Phillipson, Tove Skutnabb-Kangas & Tibor
Varady (eds.) (1999): Language: A Right and Resource: Approaching
Linguistic Human Rights. Budapest: Central European University
Press. 346 pages. Hardcover US $ 49.95 / GB � 31.95, paperback US $
23.95 / GB � 14.95.

Reviewed by Angela Bartens, University of Helsinki.

The volume under review reunites the papers presented at a
conference on Linguistic Human Rights (LHR) in Budapest, Hungary, in
October 1997. At the same time, it is a state-of-the-art panorama of
the (sub-)field of LHR which has gained impetus especially over the
past decade. Situated on a chronological continuum somewhere between
Skutnabb-Kangas & Phillipson (eds., 1994) and Skutnabb-Kangas
(2000), it testifies to the progress made since the "early days" of
LHR research.

LHR are diagnostic of the post-modernist quest for a new society
initiated in the post-Cold War years. Although LHR research is
multidisciplinary by definition, the integration of insights from
several disciplines, above all law, economics, and sociolinguistics,
has become much more successful over the years as individual
researchers have tried to learn from each other. One of the main
assets of this collection of papers is the extent to which it
embodies the multi- and cross-disciplinary efforts made by those
concerned with LHR. Another major focus of the collection is the
affirmation that language (and its use) is both a right and a


After the "Introduction: Conceptualising and Implementing Linguistic
Human Rights" (pp.1-21) authored by the editors of the volume, the
book is divided into five thematic sections according to the
predominant perspective from which LHR are approached.

The first section, "General issues", starts with Robert Phillipson's
discussion of "International Languages and International Human
Rights" (pp. 25-46). He portrays the international hegemony English
has reached in spite of lip service to multiple working languages in
international organizations such as the UN and the EU. Although
Phillipson admits that he has become aware of Esperanto only
recently (p. 34), his paper is also a plea for re-examining the
potential of Esperanto as a democratic international language. In
"Heroes, Rebels, Communities and States in Language Rights Activism
and Litigation" (pp. 47-80), Angeline Martel explores the potential
of litigation in the quest for LHR from the Canadian perspective,
or, more accurately, from the perspective of the Francophone
minorities outside Quebec. After demonstrating the reciprocal
relationship between ideology and law on the one hand and ideology
and activism on the other, she proceeds to show how activism can
have a major impact on the law through litigation in many if not all
democracies and strongly urges other minority groups to engage in
this battle. In "'Don^�t Speak Hungarian in Public!' - a
Documentation and Analysis of Folk Linguistic Rights" (pp. 81-97),
Miklos Kontra highlights the importance of considering, studying,
and eventually changing folk beliefs both in the majority and in the
minority populations as a prerequisite for implementing LHR.
According to his findings in Hungarian-speaking minority
communities, the most powerful and recurring arguments brought
against codified LHR are intelligibility, speak-X-in-X-land, and
"the bread reason" (you/we eat X-ish bread so you/we should speak X-
ish). "The Common Language Problem" by Mart Rannut (pp. 99-114)
examines the relationships between language, power and society in
time and as reflected in three language-policy models: language
spread, nation building, and minority-language protection. Although
the main focus has to remain on the power relationship between
nation building and minority-language protection in the modern
world, he ends his paper by calling for a multiple language planning
model which will also include the dimension of language spread and
be constrained by LHR.

The second section of the volume is dedicated to "Legal issues".
Fernand de Varennes examines "The Existing Rights of Minorities in
International Law" (pp. 117-146). The first observation non-lawyers
have to come to terms with is how ambigious and subject to
interpretation law is and how much of it belongs to the "being nice"
category as opposed to categorically enforceable laws. Second,
international law may come to the rescue of those who are not
protected by national laws. Significant progress has been made
since The Charter of the United Nations (1945) and The Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (1948) where language is not mentioned
at all and even the state of affairs reported on in Skutnabb-Kangas
& Phillipson (1994), for example the 1996 Barcelona Universal
Declaration of Linguistic Human Rights or the 1996 The Hague
Recommendations Regarding the Education Rights of National
Minorities & Explanatory Note. And yet, Article 27 of the UN
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966/1994)
still grants the best legally binding protection of language
minorities and the implementation of LHR still leaves much to be
desired on the global scale even when the existence of national and
regional differences is recognized (cf. also Skutnabb-Kangas p. 212
in this volume). Bart Driessen's "The Slovak State Language Law as
a Trade Law Problem" (pp. 147-165) is an interesting case study
where the author convincingly argues that in the absence of an
effective system protecting the rights of minorities such as the
Hungarians in Slovakia, both national and international trade law
provisions greatly enhance them.

The third section focuses on "Market issues". In the first paper,
"Market Forces, Language Spread and Linguistic Diversity" (pp. 169-
186), Francois Grin disproves the widely held and naive view that
market forces are alone responsible for the spread of some languages
and the decline of others. As a matter of fact, he demonstrates that
the initial impetus of language spread has to be traced to non-
market forces and that market forces may actually help preserve a
qualified, albeit not unrestricted form of diversity. This point is
illustrated from the Gaeltacht where the "Gaillimh le Gaeilge"
project initiated in 1988 has successfully combined the promotion of
English-Irish bilingualism and the generation of income. Grin ends
his paper with the optimistic hope that the "Recognition of non-
material goals, such as environmental quality or linguistic
diversity, can usefully put some priorities back into place: market
forces are there to serve welfare, not the other way round." (p.
184). This optimism is not shared by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas who in
the following paper addresses "Linguistic Diversity, Human Rights
and the 'Free' Market" (pp. 187-222). According to her, human rights
(political, economic, social and cultural) including LHR and the
"free" market are incompatible because the "free" market eliminates
the basis for human rights. As "free" market policies exempt economy
from public control by over-ruling the sovereignty of individual
states, a number of changes are brought about which are frequently
subsumed under the effects of globalization: environmental
degradation, linguicism and cultural genocide, growing economic and
social inequalities, etc. These, in turn, create insecurity and
conflict (Skutnabb-Kangas cites linguicism and cultural genocide as
fundamental causes of ethnic conflicts and wars, p. 202) which
provoke new waves of centralization, homogenization and contempt for
human rights. The devastating effects of World Bank and IMF
structural adjustment programs to human rights, quoted in this (p.
195) as in many other studies, are just an example. In short, while
there is a gross conflict of interests between free market forces
and human rights, it can only be hoped that human rights will serve
as correctives to the free market. However, unless a radical
redistribution of resources occurs at the same time, future
prospects for mankind are bleak. As far as linguistic diversity is
concerned, this implies the linguicism of 90% of the world's oral
languages by the year 2100. Which may be fatal in a sense quite
unexpected to the layman: while early research recognized a
correlation between cultural and linguistic diversity and
biodiversity, there is growing evidence for the reciprocal causality
of the relationship (cf. also Skutnabb-Kangas 2000, Ch. 2).
Ironically enough, the menace globalization and free market forces
represent to biodiversity continues to receive much more attention
than the menace cultural and linguistic diversity is under. Amir
Hassanpour's contribution "Language Rights in the Emerging World
Linguistic Order: The State, the Market and Communication
Technologies" (pp. 223-241) documents the rise (starting in May
1994) and (erstwhile, cf. "Postcript (July 1999)", pp. 237-239) fall
of a virtual Kurdish state by means of Med-TV, a private satellite
television station. Interestingly enough, this virtual state was
able to grant its "citizens" the enjoyment of language rights in a
way unprecedented in the history of the Kurdish people. It can be
read as a sequel to Skutnabb-Kangas & Bucak (1994).

The fourth section examines "Language planning issues". Uldis
Ozolins discusses "Separating Language from Ethnicity: The Paradoxes
of Strict Policies and Increasing Social Harmony in the Baltic
States" (pp. 245-262). Since the Baltic states regained their
independence in 1991, the language and (in the case of Estonia and
Latvia) related citizenship policies have attracted the criticism of
the international community and a succession of visits by
commissions representing international organizations and charged to
investigate the situation. As a matter of fact, the Baltic states
constitute a rare case where the present so-called majority
languages continue to suffer from the minorization of the Soviet
period to an extent where official monolingualism is the only policy
which will guarantee the maintenance of the so-called majority
languages while a continuation of the Soviet policy of bilingualism
with Russian would have lead to the inevitable eradication of
Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian. It has to be born in mind that
speakers of Russian and other minority languages for example have
access to mother tongue education. At independence in 1991, Estonian
and Latvian were more severely menaced by Russian than Lithuanian;
hence the tying of access to citizenship to proficiency in the
majority language in Estonia and Latvia but not in Lithuania. There
has not been any ultimative verdict from the international
community. However, it is significant that ethnic tension in the
Baltic states has actually decreased during the 1990es. Another
issue largely ignored in the international debate is that the rate
of application for naturalization among those eligible has been
surprisingly low as many residents seem to have personal reasons for
not trading their old Soviet passports for the citizenship of a
Baltic state. In "Language Policy in a Changing Society:
Problematic Issues in the Implementation of International Linguistic
Human Rights" (pp. 263-276), Ina Druviete concentrates on the case
of Latvia. First, she discusses language use in private enterprises
and companies and concludes that this is not a case where LHR
protecting the use of language in the private sphere should apply.
In the second part of her paper, she argues that the inflection and
translitteration of foreign names belong to "processes pertaining to
the language system" (p. 274). Whether this is true in the case of
translitteration is, of course, debatable.

The final section of the collection deals with "Education and
ethnicity issues". Istvan Muzsnai discusses "The Recognition of Sign
Language: A Threat or the Way to a Solution?" in Hungary (pp. 279-
296). One of the main problems is the difficulty of distinguishing
medically deaf from hard-of-hearing children at an early age.
Csanyi, an influential educator of the deaf in Hungary, has
therefore recommended early education through the acoustic channel
for both groups. However, as Muzsnai argues, this deprives young
medically deaf children of their LHR. Muznai makes a case for
bilingual education for the deaf in Hungary at all levels; it
remains to be seen how long this will take to become a reality.
Andrea Szalai addresses "Linguistic Human Rights Problems among
Romani and Boyash Speakers in Hungary with Special Attention to
Education" (pp. 297-315). In the socialist era, the Gypsy population
of Hungary (altogether 0,32 million or 3% of the entire national
population in 1971 and 0,5 million or 5% in 1993-94) was regarded
as a social problem rather than a minority and assimilation was seen
as the only path to integration. Little difference was made between
native speakers of Romani and Boyash who according to the 1971
survey represented 21% and 8% of the Gypsy population, respectively.
However, Boyash detached itself from the Romani language at least
150 years ago and now constitutes a separate language which is why
the Boyash use "Gypsy" as their external self-definition. As a
matter of fact, post-1989 language-planning efforts have focused on
Romani and Boyash as separate languages. However, the language
certificates which it has been possible to take in Romani and in
Boyash since 1992 and 1996, respectively, both certify that the
holder has passed an exam in the "Gypsy language". The Hungarian
Minority and Education Acts of 1993 both grant LHR to the Gypsies
but the implementation of these rights continues to reflect the old
view of Gypsies not as a minority but as a social problem. In
addition, the misconception that all Hungarian Gypsies are bilingual
leads to cases of serious violation of LHR. Szalai sees the most
urgent tasks in the harmonization of status and corpus planning
measures. In the realm of corpus planning and implementation,
speakers of Boyash find themselves in a disadvantaged position vis-
a-vis speakers of Romani since no high register of Boyash existed
previous to the 1990es. The topic of the last paper by Klara Sandor
is "Contempt for Linguistic Human Rights in the Service of the
Catholic Church: The Case of the Csangos" (pp. 317-331). The Csangos
are speakers of roofless dialects of Hungarian who migrated from
Hungaria to Moldavia, Rumania, in two waves (14th-15th and 16th-18th
centuries). The Catholic religion constitutes the core element of
their ethnic identity and it is only for this reason that the
Catholic Church and the Vatican have been able to exert the key role
in the linguicism of Csango: today, 62 000 out of a total of 240 000
Csangos are bilingual in Csango Hungarian and Rumanian while the
rest are monolingual speakers of the national language. Rome took
over all Catholic activities in Moldavia in the early 17th century
and it can be said that the Csangos have been isolated from speakers
of other dialects of Hungarian since then. Today, intelligibility
with Transylvanian Hungarian is practically not given; unlike the
Hungarians of Transylvania, the Csangos are not recognized as a
minority in Rumania. The Rumanian state argues that they are
"Hungarianized Rumanians" who must be assimilated. Until recently,
the Vatican has acted according to the mirror argument that
Rumanians are Catholics turned Othodox who should be reintegrated
into the Catholic Church. By consequence, the linguicism of Csango
is a result of a conspiracy between the Vatican and its local
representatives and the Rumanian state.

In addition to the contributions mentioned, the volume obviously
contains a Table of Contents (pp. v-vi), Lists of Maps (p. vii),
Tables (pp. vii-viii), Figures (p. viii), the Contributors (pp. ix-
xi, with short biographic notes), and an Index (pp. 332-346).


As indicated above, the collection under review is a state-of-the-
art presentation of the field of LHR. It testifies both to the
progress which has been made and to the immense body of work which
lies ahead. It also testifies to methodological progress: multi- and
cross-disciplinary approaches are now starting to bear fruit as
those interested in LHR who, by necessity, come from various fields
of study, have sought more profound understanding and integration of
the contributions of each other�s fields. A particular gain of this
collection also lies in the integration of the approaches of
"language as a right" and "language as a resource" which before
seemed clearly distinct if not incompatible. The choice of papers
serves the reader with both overviews of general issues and case
studies of particular situations where LHR are at stake. Doubtlessly
the venue of the conference is at the origin of a concentration of
case studies on Hungarian and Central European issues which
constitutes a welcome addition to language/geographic areas such as
the Baltic states more frequently dealt with in recent LHR
literature. There is very little to say in terms of criticism. The
collection under review cannot convey an integral picture of the
complex field of LHR and research on them nor does it pretend to do
so. I am persuaded that it will get more people from different
fields interested and involved in LHR and in so doing, it will have
attained a very valuble goal. This collection makes for both
demanding and rewarding reading - actually, several readings.
Speaking of which: this may of course lie in the eye of the
beholder, but for some reason I missed a definition of LHR adopted
by all authors, especially as opposed to "language rights" which are
presumedly more far-reaching and less binding than LHR (cf.
Skutnabb-Kangas 2000:498). The two terms appear to be used almost
interchangeably by some authors of the volume under review. As far
as my review copy was concerned, a slight disappointment was
constituted by the fact that pp. 275-290 were missing and that I
found it impossible to get in touch with the editing company to have
this state of affairs remedied as e-mail messages sent to addresses
indicated on the back cover as well as on the web pages of the
company kept bouncing back. Obviously e-mail still is not the
predominant mode of communication in most parts of the world but I
could not help lamenting how many people might thus be deterred from
ordering this excellent book.


Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove (2000): Linguistic Genocide in Education Or
Worldwide Diversity and Human Rights? Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates.

Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove & Serta Bucak (1994): "Killing a mother tongue
- how the Kurds are deprived of linguistic human rights". In: Tove
Skutnabb-Kangas & Robert Phillipson (eds.), 347-370.

Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove & Robert Phillipson (1994): "Linguistic human
rights, past and present." In: Tove Skutnabb-Kangas & Robert
Phillipson (eds.), 71-110.

Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove & Phillipson, Robert (eds.), in collaboration
with Mart Rannut (1994): Linguistic Human Rights. Overcoming
Linguistic Discrimination. (Contributions to the Sociology of
Language 67.) Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

The Reviewer: Dr.phil. Angela Bartens is Docent of Iberoromance
Philology at the University of Helsinki. Her research interests
include language contact including pidgins and creoles,
sociolinguistics and applied sociolinguistics including language
planning. E-mail:


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