In sociolinguistics, what is meant by language rights?  

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To scholars of sociolinguistics, language rights are a subset of human rights.  In other words, just as we have the right to our life and our liberty, we also have the right to our language.  Language rights is the idea that we have the right to speak our own language and to have that language be respected.

The idea behind this is that, scholars say, people usually think it is okay to discriminate against people based on language.  It is acceptable to look down on someone who does not speak the dominant language of a country properly and with a good accent. As one of the links says:

  • Linguistic differences are associated w/class, religious, gender, ethnic etc. differences.
  • Discrimination on the latter grounds is no longer publicly acceptable, but
  • Discrimination on the grounds of accent, dialect, etc. is tolerated.
  • If attitudes to language stand for attitudes to speakers, then it follows that:
  • Discrimination on the grounds of language use stands in as a proxy for discrimination on social grounds, and naturalizes and legitimizes it.
  • I.e. one can openly discriminate against lower-class, foreign or ethnic students, job candidates, etc. by means of language discrimination, while avoiding direct (and possibly illegal) reference to class, ethnicity, or nationality.

Language rights activists argue that the right to be free from this sort of discrimination is a fundamental human right.  They believe that people should not be allowed to discriminate against others on the basis of their linguistic heritage.  The UNESCO link is to a declaration of universal linguistic rights -- it should help you understand what rights these scholars think should be protected.