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However, the common understanding of language rights does involve the goal of legal recognition see note 1 , often in comparison with the kind of recognition already enjoyed by speakers of a dominant language. Where language rights advocates are concerned, then, this broader definition is not likely to suffice because there are larger structural conditions of social inequality that already impact on the potential for voice and its capacity to bring about the desired uptake Blommaert a: 15, 45, In fact, it is the intention to compensate for such structural inequalities that motivates the move toward a legislatively oriented conception of language rights.

That having been said, I will, however, in this book, argue for an approach that comes very close to the broader definition with its reliance on voice, given the premium that deliberative democracy attaches to discourse and public reason. The distinction between interlanguage and intralanguage discrimination should not therefore be treated as a sharp one.

It is changeable and its application in any given context depends very much on the dynamics of the aforementioned factors. However, the general assumption has been that it is a relatively straightforward matter to extend the notion of language rights from cases of interlanguage discrimination to those involving intralanguage discrimination Phillipson and Skutnabb-Kangas But in order to grapple with intralanguage inequality, it is not possible simply to assert that nontraditional speakers should also have the right to a language of wider communication.

This position has a certain degree of plausibility since it is unlikely, for example, that speakers of Singlish would wish to lay claim to the variety of English spoken in southern Africa, and vice versa. However, it is complicated by the fact that new Englishes are often stigmatized so that there is likely to be a fair amount of disagreement among speakers about the desirability and legitimacy of these language varieties. Returning to Singlish, it is demonstrably the case see chapter 4 that some Singaporeans vehemently oppose the use of this variety even as other Singaporeans enthusiastically support it.

For many speakers, it is access to the standard prestige variety that is desired, since this is the variety that they consider more useful for improving their socioeconomic prospects. But the standard variety is typically exonormative, and claims made toward the standard on the basis of perceived economic advantage 4. The idea of English as a lingua franca ELF House ; Jenkins ; Siedlhofer is, arguably, an attempt at discerning the contours of such a unitary entity.

The ELF project aims to identify a core set of linguistic variables that might facilitate communication between speakers of different linguistic backgrounds. Work on identifying a set of phonological variables has made far greater progress than work on pragmatics or lexicogrammar, which is not surprising, given the more open-ended nature of the latter. Be that as it may, a possible weakness of the ELF project is that it appears to be focused on achieving communicative success in the narrow sense of information transfer.

It may occur to some readers that the absence of a unitary language is an issue that could also arise with a minority language, so that the question of which variety should be considered the object of the right may prove problematic even in cases of interlanguage inequality. May The lack of consensus regarding the assignation of rights also returns us to one of our earlier questions: Are the bearers of language rights properly conceived as individuals or groups?

Language rights are generally understood to be group rights May , , since language is construed as a form of social practice that is reflective and constitutive of group culture. But it has sometimes been suggested that in addition to groups, individuals should also be considered bearers of language rights Skutnabb-Kangas, Kontra, and Phillipson This latter position is sustainable, provided we are prepared to distinguish between different kinds of language rights, since the kinds of language rights that individuals and groups can properly lay claim to are different in character.

Rights that accrue to individuals on the basis of their status as persons are more likely to be inalienable and transferable across social and geographical boundaries, making these more relevant and arguably more useful in dealing with the challenges posed by migration and global mobility.

In contrast, rights that accrue to groups are only available to those individuals who are acknowledged as group members, and this raises further questions about the criteria by which group membership is recognized: Who decides on these criteria? How contestable are they?

Are exit strategies available should some individuals wish to renounce group membership? Exit strategies can be sensitive and controversial, since if a sufficiently large number of individuals desire to leave a group, this could be perceived as jeopardizing the continued existence of the group itself.

A related issue that requires serious consideration is the reification of social practices that are inherently mutable and variable. Whether or not we decide to make the new variety or the standard variety the object of a right, we are in either case assuming that there is an identifiably stable variety that can be coherently construed as such an object. That is, we are assuming that there exists a definable linguistic entity to which a speaker qua individual or group member can claim some moral or legal privilege as the object of a right.

But this assumption becomes problematic in light of the historicity of language. At the very least, it is an assumption that warrants revisiting. Varieties take time to emerge as recognizably distinct linguistic systems with conventionalized names. In other words, 6. Cameron The reason for this is that discriminatory language practices are less often about the properties of language itself than about how speakers are perceived. This problem—how to deal with linguistic discrimination that does not involve access to an identifiably named variety—is compounded by the fact that there is no principled basis on which we can justifiably limit our discussion of linguistic discrimination only to those cases involving identifiable varieties, while ignoring discrimination that involves individual lexical items or styles of discourse.

Language practices are thoroughly and robustly present in all these cases, and if the idea of language rights is to be truly viable, it needs to be able to deal with these more subtle and nebulous forms of linguistic discrimination. Underlying the notion of language rights, then, is a conception of language that needs to be interrogated: Is language the kind of thing that can be appropriately construed as the object of a right?

By way of illustration, let us consider a series of examples drawn from Turkey, Sweden, and Malaysia. It is well recognized that speakers can be discriminated against because they are perceived to speak a linguistic variety that marks a distinct ethnic identity. Thus, in Sweden, immigrants—despite their ethnic heterogeneity—are stereotypically characterized as speaking Rinkeby Swedish. In both these cases, a recognized named variety Kurdish and Rinkeby Swedish indexes a negatively valued identity within the larger society Kurds in Turkey and immigrants in Sweden, respectively , and the variety is denigrated as a result of this association.

But—and this is a point of some importance—in both these cases there is no direct encounter with the variety as a linguistic totality. Stroud shows how specific Rinkeby Swedish constructions can be appropriated by native Swedes who wish to appear hip, trendy, or linguistically innovative. However, it is not always the case that constructions are necessarily evaluated as metonyms or representatives of recognizably established varieties.

In the Swedish case, for example, the social recognition of an identifiable variety was a later development, emerging from the stigmatization of specific language practices associated with immigrant speech. The fact is, then, that the named language variety is not always the level at which actual language practices are evaluated.

In this example, what is at stake is not so much a named or stable language variety as the discursive right to legitimately propose alternative interpretations of religious texts. The exclusion of women from such a right and the concomitant status of men as the sole legitimate interpreters of Islam stem from the belief that men are by nature inherently more rational than women, who are characterized as being more passionate and out of control. This obviously does not foreclose the possibility that feminist Muslims in Malaysia might one day enjoy both the ability to offer their own Islamic interpretations as well as the ability to celebrate their sexual identities on a par with their male counterparts.

However, the situated nature of any cultural struggle requires the adoption of strategies that are attuned to the affordances of a specific sociocultural milieu. And in the case of the Sisters, the strategy adopted has been to first aim at acquiring the discursive ability to intervene in religious pronouncements and then, having succeeded in the former, hopefully make headway with regard to sexual freedom. This is the case with Kurdish and over time Rinkeby Swedish. But in other cases, what is at stake need not be the status of an identifiable variety.

Instead, the struggle may well be over the ability to legitimately use what is ostensibly the same variety, but for previously unsanctioned and unimagined practices, as in the case of the Sisters of Islam in Malaysia. Throughout all three cases, then, we need to pay attention to the processes by which social valuations get attached to particular language practices and, where possible, explore ways of contesting and changing such valuations.

This enterprise is difficult because, as we have just seen, language practices are not easily isolatable from other cultural representations, but may instead be intertwined with deeply entrenched understandings about appropriate gendered and religious behavior as in the case of the Sisters of Islam or class distinctions. The pursuit of language rights may therefore be achievable only if we are also prepared to revisit received understandings pertaining to other areas of cultural life, bearing in mind that such visitations need not always lead to the exercise of greater liberties in these other areas.

It could equally require that we temper or compromise on our ability to enjoy other kinds of activities. The significance of these observations cannot be understated: It is not feasible to talk about language rights in a universalistic or absolute sense, since normative visions regarding the use of language also need to be sensitive to other potentially competing moral systems and visions of the good life Ong The fact that language exists in conjunction with other cultural activities requires us to approach language itself as an activity.

And, as the next section shows, this further requires that we rethink some commonly held assumptions about the nature of language. In this regard, it has become increasingly common in recent years to speak of language as a form of social practice. The notion of practice has the merit of moving attention away from ideas and values as the conscious content of individual cognition to their status as sociocultural habits that are enacted anew each time social actors come into contact with each other Swidler In the case of language, this means that rather than treating language as a fully formed cognitive system that happens to be realized in actual behavior, it is better to construe language as a social activity whose regularity is the outcome of temporarily conventionalized patterns of usage.

Perhaps most significantly, this requires that we rethink the ontological status of a language. As language conventions change, as they inevitably do, what were once regularities may now be perceived as irregularities, and vice versa. There are two important implications to viewing grammar as emergent: any encounter with language is necessarily both partial and semiotically mediated. Partiality follows because if language is not a fully circumscribed object, then there is no completed system or finalized inventory of constructions waiting to be learned, acquired, or invoked, even by a so-called native speaker.

There are, instead, linguistic regularities existing dynamically alongside linguistic irregularities, so that in the light of newer experiences, the relations between specific linguistic constructions may be reevaluated. This reevaluation may result in the formation of newer constructions, the jettisoning of older ones, or the reanalysis of the properties attributed to extant constructions leading to their resignification. In this way, constructions are semiotic resources that an actor can draw upon because of the kinds of values that they index.

At the same time, there is always a degree of indeterminacy involved in how constructions are interpreted, and this applies no matter how lexically specified or schematic a construction may be. This is because no single actor fully controls their indexical values. Instead, the attribution of such values is always intersubjectively negotiated, notwithstanding the fact that actors enter into interactions with different degrees of power and status, and hence, with different abilities to impose their preferred interpretations onto particular constructions.

Consider, as an illustration, the following situation, where three interlocutors of roughly equal status are involved in code-switching. In Singapore, the colloquial variety of English known as Singlish has often been contrasted with standard English. Singlish broadly indexes various social meanings, such as a local Singaporean identity, being less educated, and being less cosmopolitan. In contrast, standard English is associated with meanings such as being better educated, being more sophisticated, and perhaps being more international or global in outlook.

In this example, three Singaporean radio deejays are discussing the song Ironic by the pop singer Alanis Morrisette, who has been famously criticized for using lyrics that suggest that she may not really understand the meaning of the word ironic. All three deejays are aware of this criticism, which forms the basis of their discussion.

The discussion initially takes place with all three deejays using standard somewhat Americanized English. After playing the song, one of the deejays A begins recounting the criticism made about Morrisette. This deejay then starts to quote from a dictionary the definition of ironic in order to explain its correct meaning. The other two deejays B and C immediately react to this act of dictionary-quoting by switching from standard English to Singlish.

Here is a reconstruction of the conversation Singlish utterances have been italicized. Deejay B: Wah, you so clever one. Deejay C: Yeah lah. We not so clever one; we just play the song only, hor? Recall that Singlish is popularly conceived as the language of less-educated Singaporeans, who are therefore by virtue of a cultural stereotype assumed not to be able to speak a more standard form of English. In addition, a Singlish speaker may also be presented as being less sophisticated or less pretentious. These meanings are conveyed by deejays B and C, as they switch to Singlish the moment their colleague starts trying to provide a definition of ironic.

This example illustrates that independent of the specific context, the codes Singlish, standard English are associated with social meanings that the speakers can draw upon for local exchanges. But this is not to say that speakers are only ever able to passively reflect preexisting meanings. The preexisting meanings are usually quite broad or vague and, in this way, form a resource that speakers can exploit in local contexts, sometimes by imbuing them with greater specificity and other times by contravening the expected associations.

Also, even though we are describing code-switching here as the move from one variety to another, we should not forget that there is no direct access per se to the variety as a linguistic totality. Instead, it is always specific linguistic constructions serving as semiotic resources—some indexically associated with Singlish such as the use of the particles lah and hor, and the absence of a copular verb in We not so clever one , others indexically associated with standard English—that provide the point of entry not just for us in our roles as analysts of what is going on in a given exchange, but also for how the interlocutors themselves are relating to each other.

By way of closing this section, I want to highlight a further advantage of thinking about language in constructional terms. To take a simple example, an ostensibly monolingual speaker of English may have in his or her repertoire, in addition to conventionally accepted English language constructions, bits and pieces of other constructions associated with other languages. It is not unlikely for an English-speaking wine enthusiast, for example, to have some knowledge of French lexical items or phrases.

Or, more commonly, coffee drinkers may have in their repertoire lexical constructions such as espresso or cappuccino without even thinking of themselves as speaking bits of Italian. Attempting to answer such questions privileges named linguistic varieties with an undeserved ontological priority. And because such hybridity usually emerges under conditions of contact between diverse communities the emergence of Rinkeby Swedish as a label for a myriad of hybrid constructions is a case in point , it is particularly relevant to the kind of identity politics Fraser ; Taylor that has become increasingly prominent in plural societies.

This includes the kinds of situations that the notion of language rights is most likely to be concerned with, where groups with different ethnolinguistic affiliations are all vying to be given due recognition. Consequently, any proposal that attempts to address the problem of linguistic discrimination cannot afford to ignore the challenges posed by linguistic hybridity. Language differs from practices pertaining to religion, diet, or dress in that it is unavoidable. Unlike other cultural practices, it is simply impossible in most, if not all, situations to avoid the use of a specific language, since some form of communication is necessary if the participating individuals or communities are to successfully coordinate their actions.

The unavoidability of language has serious political implications, since it is not possible for any institution to be completely neutral in the sense of being seen not to favor a particular language. A governing state, for example, may aim to be secular, and it can do this by ensuring that any decision it makes is not influenced by the worldviews or values espoused by a particular religion. But the state clearly has no choice but to adopt a specific language if it is to conduct any kind of activity at all, with the consequence that those individuals who are unable to speak this chosen language are automatically disadvantaged compared to those who can.

Liberalism provides the idea of rights with its most coherent justification, and the liberal justification of rights is based in no small measure on neutrality as a desired political goal cf. Taylor There is a need therefore to clarify how both the unavoidability of language and any aspiration toward neutrality can coexist in the context of a liberal democracy.

If, for example, what we hope to achieve via the notion of language rights is neutrality in the sense that each community within a society gets to use its own language for all major institutional purposes such as employment, education, mass media, and politics , we could be criticized for advocating a return to some version of apartheid cf. Wallerstein 73—75; see also T. Turner The reasons for this are clear enough. First of all, it is unlikely that the language of the public sphere would be a language that is equally alien to the different groups in the society.

While the choice of a totally alien language might be interesting as a thought experiment to ensure that no particular group is advantaged over some other, this is impractical. It would simply penalize the entire society by making the conduct of any institutional activity unnecessarily difficult. The public-sphere language, in all likelihood, would be one that is already spoken by some members of society, thus immediately privileging those speakers.

But even if a completely alien language were somehow to be chosen, we can expect that in the course of time, some individuals would become more adept at using this language than others. This could come about when expatriates as native speakers of the alien language are brought in to provide the necessary language training. Or it might come about simply because individuals who are required to use the language for the conduct of various activities start to develop their own stylistic register. Regardless of these two scenarios, over time, the ostensibly neutral public language is also likely to start being used in the home environment so that eventually it would effectively become the first language of at least some individuals and their families.

The problem of unavoidability posed by language therefore means that there is no realistic possibility of neutrality ever being achieved. In fact, expectations of neutrality are only likely to exacerbate social tensions as bearers of language rights embark on the slippery slope of comparing the relative gains made by different groups. Members of A may then argue that this situation is unfair and that their own language should instead be the language of the public sphere.

This line of argument, of course, simply displaces one privileged language and its associated speakers with some other. Perhaps even more damagingly, it could encourage a potentially unending series of comparisons of relative privilege that might not be mitigated by any sense of compromise or mutual accommodation. But more significantly, the practicality of this option decreases as the number of groups increases, as would be the case with highly plural societies. Close historical precedents exist, of course. English, which started out as a foreign language, became the home language of a small local elite.

In the postcolonial era, English became the medium of education, and today, different varieties of English are even more widely spoken throughout the island across multiple ethnic and social categories. Such a move would concede that language is irreducibly illiberal in nature, and any social compromise will instead require actors to be reflexive about what they can reasonably expect from their own language practices as well as from those of others around them. In this way, rather than attempting to realize an unlikely state of linguistic neutrality, the goal is to acknowledge and foreground the many different interests that are at stake and which need to be negotiated.

This alternative would have the advantage of foregrounding the fact that language is always inextricably intertwined with potentially conflicting interests, and that compromises are often necessary in a plural society. The unavoidability of language just happens to be a particularly strong reminder of this fact. It is extremely difficult to predict exactly what interests actors may have in the course of their life trajectories or what language practices will be relevant to those interests.

Language can serve a primarily instrumental function such as facilitating access to socioeconomic goods. It can also serve a more symbolic function such as marking ethnic identity. These are functions that, depending on the actor and his or her stage of life, could be served by the same language or by different languages.

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This is why any approach to language and justice needs to pay attention to the idea of deliberation. The process of deliberating forces actors to confront, and thus become aware of, their own interests as well as those of others. And deliberation is metalinguistic when, in the course of such discussions, background assumptions about the nature of language and about what purposes language can be expected to serve, are foregrounded as the direct object of query, justification, and counterargument.

The important contribution that a deliberative approach makes is that acts of deliberation typically aim to arrive at working agreements rather than consensus Dryzek A working agreement differs from a consensus in a crucial respect: it acknowledges that the deliberating parties may still be divided by fundamental differences, but are willing to put these aside for the time being. This, too, is crucial. Because a working agreement is necessarily provisional or temporary in nature, it can be revisited. In this way, a working agreement allows for the possibility of revision in the light of changing social conditions, and is thus able to accommodate the changing interests of actors.

I am not suggesting that a deliberative approach is without problems of its own. Related to this is the question of what forms of communication ought to be admitted. Should it be the case that only arguments that follow the principles of logic are admissible, or should other forms of communication stories, jokes, anecdotes, etc. What kind of language s should be used?

And what happens to the interests of those who do not speak any of the chosen languages? These are difficult questions indeed, but theorists of deliberative democracy have made significant headway toward resolving them Bonham ; Dryzek ; Gutmann and Thompson It is therefore worth pursuing the question of whether it might be possible to situate language rights in the context of deliberative democracy. There is certainly no incompatibility in principle between the general idea of rights and the model of deliberative democracy. Indeed, a case can be made that individual basic rights, such as freedom from torture or freedom of association, are needed to ensure that deliberative processes are as democratic as possible Guttmann and Thompson The issue at hand, then, is not the relationship between rights in general and deliberative democracy.

The result is a significant appeal to erasure Gal and Irvine as heterogeneity internal to the group, variability in practices, and changes in the relations between them are all downplayed or even ignored. In other words, while the concept of language rights is intended to reflect and protect the interests of actors, it has the disadvantage of taking for granted the nature of such interests because it tends to assume that actors already have well-formed stable interests and enter into negotiations only in order to ensure that these preexisting interests are protected. This means that we will need to address the issue of essentialism and how this can be mitigated chapter 2.

For the concept of a right to be coherent, clear boundaries have to be drawn between different rights-bearers. Such considerations lead us to ask whether language can or should be treated as a bounded entity, as would be the case with the concept of language rights.

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This chapter reviews the differences and similarities between these groups. Despite their differences, the three movements share a particular conception of language, one that assumes the existence of neat and clear boundaries between languages. Also, for all three movements, the prototypical cases motivating the appeal to language rights involve speakers of ethnic minority languages.

These observations serve to delineate the conceptual and empirical scope of language rights. It discusses cases of intralanguage discrimination as well as language use in educational and workplace settings, and shows that such cases are not easily handled via an appeal to language rights. The chapter concludes by discussing the circumstances under which language rights might be useful, arguing that the usefulness of the notion of language rights lies mainly in helping to raise awareness of the problems of discrimination faced by a specific ethnic minority group.

But there are significant costs involved, since the different problems and experiences of individual group members are not taken into consideration. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 deal in detail with a variety of case studies, applying the arguments developed in the preceding chapters. These cases usefully represent a continuum of societies, from Sri Lanka, where the discourse of rights is highly prominent, to Singapore, where it is largely absent, with Malaysia situated somewhere in between. This selection of societies allows for a useful comparison of the relative effects that language rights can have in mitigating linguistic discrimination.

Here, we will see that contrary to claims by language rights advocates, the employment of a rights discourse is more likely to exacerbate rather than alleviate ethnic tensions.

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This chapter argues that migration and global mobility pose serious conceptual and practical problems for language rights. I argue that both states and the residents within them are best placed to accommodate the challenges posed by immigration and global mobility when the emphasis is on respecting the rights of individuals, interpreted in accordance with international law.

As a consequence, the notion of language rights can either be dispensed with or, if retained, be interpreted as being borne by individuals rather than groups. The chapter suggests that the notion of language rights, rationalized as the protection of an inherited ethnic identity, is not well placed to accommodate the task of helping learners navigate a changing and unpredictable workplace. With this in mind, I go on to examine three specific issues.

The second concerns the kind of language education that might best prepare learners for the workplace, since the workplace itself represents an increasingly changing and unpredictable environment. The third issue has to do with how the notion of language rights, understood as the protection of an inherited ethnic identity, compares with other kinds of rights, such as the right to decide for oneself what languages to learn, especially if these present opportunities for socioeconomic betterment.

I argue that language needs to be consistently viewed as a set of constructions that serves as a semiotic resource, and that this view of language has to be situated within a model of justice that encourages a reflexive stance toward language practices if we are to make any progress in addressing linguistic discrimination. I also suggest that there are features of the political model known as deliberative democracy that appear to be promising in accommodating a reflexive view of language as a semiotic resource.

The broader notion of cultural rights is intended, like language rights, as a form of protection in a globalizing world where the pace of cultural change has accelerated as different societies become increasingly interconnected and interdependent. The organization of the book is such that chapters 2 through 4 can be read as laying out the groundwork for the more empirically oriented discussions in chapters 5 through 7.

The structure of the book thus allows arguments about language rights to be evaluated on the basis of their conceptual merits as well as after having been conjoined with the details of specific case studies, and before the presentation of a non-rights-based approach in chapters 8 and 9. While acknowledging that the notion of a boundary is indeed necessary when talking about rights, the chapter questions whether this is an appropriate move when it comes to language. The chapter begins by explaining why boundary marking and essentialism are inescapable features of the discourse of rights.

After identifying three effects of rights discourse selectivity, reinvention, and neutralization , the chapter concludes by observing that language neutrality is chimerical, and furthermore, that the unavoidability and hybridity of language pose significant challenges for the notion of language rights.

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In the simplest cases, the bearer of the right is an individual and the object of the right is something that is individuated by virtue of being solely associated with the bearer. As Dershowitz 15 defines it, a right is Something that is due to a person by just claim, legal guarantee, or moral principle. A power, privilege, or immunity secured to a person by law. A legally enforceable claim that another will do or will not do a given act; a recognized and protected interest, the violation of which is a wrong.

This demarcation is critical because it allows us to determine when a particular bearer has had his or her rights respected or violated. Each individual, depending on the circumstances that he or she finds himself or herself in, may thus experience a violation or observance of his or her particular right not to be tortured. In this way, the ability to distinguish the boundaries that individuate each rights-bearer and his or her respective object allows us to evaluate claims regarding equality of treatment: the possibility of making sensible comparisons depends on consistently distinguishing between the entities being compared.

This relatively simple scenario, however, becomes considerably muddied once we start entertaining the idea of group rights, since these are rights to social goods such as culture or language, whose continued existence and thus the possibility of continued enjoyment depend on the activities of people acting as a collective rather than as individuals Waldron Let us first consider the issue of the group as the bearer of rights. Each group will need to be distinguishable from every other group, so that it is possible to make sense of claims about the observance or violation of the right of a particular group.

In this regard, one widely acknowledged problem with group rights is that there are often difficulties involved in identifying and defining the boundaries of a group May 8; Waldron For example, there may be conflicts between how a group is externally defined and how it is internally defined by the members themselves.

And since the group itself may not be homogenous, the internal criteria employed may differ across members. Unlike groups whose existence and identities are defined independently of the individuals that make up the group, such as corporate entities, social or cultural groups are supposed to be representing the identities and activities of their members.

This then raises the question of how conflicts between individual and collective rights are to be resolved, since the privileging of some criteria for defining the group could well be at odds with the choices or preferences of some of the members. Moreover, as Edwards points out, when we move from individual rights to group rights, there immediately arises the problem of differential treatment, since it is not possible to recognize the rights of all groups. As a consequence, some justifications must first be made as to why some groups and not others deserve recognition, and then, why from the set of recognized groups, rights attach to some groups and not to others.

States are keen to be seen as respecting the cultural distinctiveness of minorities. Discourses on language and linguistic minorities are not situated at the level of practices but at the level of object. This is a particularly important point, since it indicates that much policymaking is reliant on simplifying or perhaps even doggedly ignoring the complex nature of language Blommaert b; Makoni and Pennycook Having seen some of the problems involved in identifying the group as the bearer of a right, let us move on to consider the object of a group right, such as culture or language.

There are equally serious difficulties involved in identifying and defining the object of the right itself, in this case, the associated culture or language, since the object of the right itself must now be delimited in such a way as to distinguish it from similar objects that may have other groups as bearers.

These cultures tend to be territorially concentrated, and based on a shared language. Only societal cultures warrant or deserve the kind of political autonomy that amounts to self-government. For example, some cultures might not have a territorial concentration, especially if they are defined by a nomadic way of life.

Yet other cultures may not see themselves as having a shared language, since such a conception of language may be one that is imposed by external observers. Any complex human society, at any point in time, is composed of multiple material and symbolic practices with a history. Kymlicka, however, has little choice in this matter. He needs the concept of a societal culture or something similar because he needs to delimit the object of a self-government right against some other form of culture that may serve as the object of a polyethnic right.

But it is only because of its artificiality that the concept of a societal culture is able to provide the delimitation needed to mark off the contours of one kind of culture and one form of group right from some other. To summarize the discussion thus far, the idea of a right requires that clear boundaries be drawn between different rights-bearers, as well as between the objects of rights.

At this point, however, we are still dealing with the question of how to justify group rights in the form of cultural rather than language rights. However, given the need for boundary marking in a rights-based discourse, any language that has been enshrined as the object of a right like the culture that it is supposed to be a part of then acquires a solidity that can be significantly at odds with the actual experiences of its speakers. It is this that opens language rights advocates to charges of essentialism, despite the fact that some language rights advocates are acutely aware of the pitfalls of essentialism and have striven to avoid them chapter 3.

Essentialism still remains a problem, however, because of the very nature of a rights-based discourse itself. This is the focus of the following section. It should be clarified that essentialism does not necessarily mean stasis. The point to bear in mind is that there is no objective way to decide which changes are superficial and which are not, since what counts as authentic is itself the outcome of socially negotiated 26 LANGUAGE WITHOUT RIGHTS processes of authentication Bucholtz , including those processes sanctioned by a rights discourse see, in particular, the discussion of reinvention below.

It is crucial therefore that we analyze this discourse for the kinds of effects that it brings about cf. Freeman Focusing on the particular case of language rights, I argue that a rights discourse imposes the following three effects: i. Selectivity: Since not all the practices associated with a social group are appropriate candidates as the objects of rights, a rights discourse exerts pressure such that a few selected practices are privileged over others Ford Reinvention: In some cases, the pressure to come up with appropriate practices can lead a group to engage in reinvention, such as modifying the practices in ways that fit the demands of a rights discourse.

This may include providing the practices with the necessary authentication demanded by rights-conferring authorities, and asserting that these practices unanimously reflect the collective history of the group Tamir Neutralization: A rights discourse neutralizes the distinction between strategic and nonstrategic essentialism. Essentialism is strategic when group members or advocates acting on their behalf deliberately treat as stable and clearly defined phenomena that they are aware are in fact highly fluid, variable, or even conflicting Cowan et al. Some of these effects undoubtedly exist independently of a rights discourse, but the point I am pursuing here is that these effects are necessitated, if not exacerbated, by the demands of this discourse, where the rights tail comes to wag the cultural dog.

In the following section I provide an overview of critical investigations into rights discourse, focusing on how it encourages essentialism. I then attend specifically to language rights and consider, in turn, the effects of selectivity, reinvention, and neutralization, drawing on data from Singapore, South Africa, and Sri Lanka, respectively. The fact that your or your ancestors have been doing something for a long time does nothing in itself to justify your continuing to do it.

Ford delivers a similar critique in his discussion of Renee Rogers et al. American Airlines, Inc. More generally, it is by no means clear that an argument that presumes that blacks or black women have a cultural essence as blacks or as black women is a vehicle of racial empowerment. A right to group difference may be experienced as meddlesome at best and oppressive at worst even by some members of the groups that the rights regime ostensibly benefits.

For the black woman who dislikes cornrows and wishes that no one—most of all black women—would wear them, the right not only hinders her and deprives her of allies, but it also adds insult to injury by proclaiming that cornrows are her cultural essence as a black woman. Although a right to cornrows might seem only to enhance the freedom of potential cornrow wearers, it is arguably better understood as a policy of segregation through which a set of grooming styles are [sic] reserved for a particular group.

There are two problems here. Thus the autonomy of the group is privileged over the possibility that individual members within the group may in fact have a different view of the practice in question, and may reject its putative role as a representative practice.

The former are intended to refer to the kinds of obligations that a group may expect of its members. In contrast, the latter refer to the kinds of demands that the group may place on the larger society. The statement that internal restrictions should not prevent group members from rejecting traditional authorities and practices, meanwhile, does nothing to address the fact that, because a rights discourse is being invoked, there is going to be enormous pressure on the group to present a unified front.

Second, the idea that autonomy implies freedom from interference by other groups is unrealistic. Even if such cultural separatism is not the goal, entrenching practices as rights makes it difficult for groups to dynamically negotiate and accommodate changes to the practices in response to changing social conditions.

Ford But rather than being conceptualized as freedom from outside interference, the idea of autonomy is better recognized as the ability to reciprocally negotiate, at a variety of levels individual, intragroup, and intergroup , how much change to any kind of practice is acceptable, tolerable, ON BOUNDARY MARKING 29 or even desirable. Unfortunately the often hard-fought and adversarial conditions under which rights are gained tend not to encourage this kind of reciprocal engagement B.

Turner — The combination of privileging group autonomy over that of its individual members with the understanding of autonomy as freedom from meddling by nonmembers leads to the idea that rights can be used to curb interference from without, and so allow the rights-claiming group to freely express its cultural identity. This points clearly to an assumption of essentialism. A right seen in this way is not a device that simply reflects or protects an existing cultural practice.

Freeden As a consequence, the right comes to play a constitutive role in the culture of the group, since it helps to mark some practices as being more significant than others, more worthy of group attention and support. The discourse of rights thus encourages essentialism by insisting that particularly strong reasons be given for according the selected practice the status of a right.

And the strongest possible reason that can be given is that the practice embodies an essential property of the group. Having looked at how a rights discourse encourages essentialism, I now elaborate on the various effects it has on claims involving language, namely selectivity, reinvention, and neutralization, in the following subsections. Selectivity Selectivity is built into the notion of rights because it is not the case that anything can or should be accorded the status of a right. Allowing otherwise would mean trivializing the idea of a right.

As he observes, once a particular variety has been chosen as the standard, other varieties, by implication, are nonstandard, and consequently less prestigious. It may also be the case that clinging to these nonselected codes prevents the speakers from participating in status domains of influence, such as politics or education. An example from Singapore will illustrate these points. In Singapore, the management of ethnic diversity is guided by the principle of multiracialism, where respect and equal treatment must be accorded each ethnic community Benjamin ; see also chapter 4.

So do the Malays.

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The Malays: Islam and also the kinship ties. Because I recognized it, I decided you cannot change it. In every culture, there is a desire to preserve your distinctiveness. And I think if you go against that, you will create unnecessary problems, whether it is with the Indians and their caste or with the Chinese and their clans. Given this assumption, it is not surprising that the Malays, the Chinese, and the Indians each have an officially recognized mother tongue:1 Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil, respectively.

While it is arguably the case that having the Malay language as the mother tongue for the Malays accurately reflects the sociolinguistic reality of that relatively homogenous community, this is less plausible when it comes to the more heterogeneous Chinese and Indian communities. I discuss here the case of the Chinese community see PuruShotam [] for a discussion of the Indian community.

See Wee a for a detailed discussion. In addition, television programs and radio broadcasting eliminated the use of dialects; the censorship board stopped authorizing dialect films and videos unless they were dubbed in Mandarin; and Mandarin lessons appeared regularly on television and radio, in the newspapers, and on posters around the country. The removal of dialects from the media affected particularly the older Chinese, who spoke little or no Mandarin and were consequently deprived of access to news, entertainment, and general information. Now, Singaporeans have accepted it. I recognize what a sacrifice the older generation of dialect speaking Chinese have made, for us to achieve this transformation.

I thank them for making this sacrifice, and co-operating in this effort to change the spoken language of the whole community. Their grandchildren will be grateful for what they have done.


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There are a number of qualifications worth making here. One, the selection of Mandarin was not simply a top-down imposition by the government. In the s the Chinese Chamber of Commerce argued that the Chinese language Mandarin deserved greater recognition in the schools and in the legislature Hill and Lian Two, even though there were strong justifications for the choice of Mandarin, the fact remains that a rights discourse intent on recognizing the ethnolinguistic distinctiveness of the Chinese community forced a choice as to which linguistic variety would be selected. In the Singaporean context, the commitment to multiracialism and the recognition of one mother tongue for each community forced the privileging of exactly one language, Mandarin, over other Chinese dialects.

If the Chinese community had been allowed more than one official mother tongue, this would have been acceptable only if the other ethnic communities were also given the same number of options. But notice that even here, there is no escaping selectivity, in this case, a selection of some arbitrary number of languages.

This reinforces the point made earlier that individual autonomy and group-internal diversity tend to be sacrificed at the altar of group rights, which insists on the presentation of a unified front. Four, while speaking Mandarin started off as a right albeit one primarily assigned by the government3 , it quickly also became an obligation. Changes made to the public environment created a linguistic market Bourdieu that penalized those lacking knowledge of Mandarin. In addition, dialects were characterized as vulgar, primitive, and a major cause of miscommunication; and dialect-speakers were often disparaged as being unsophisticated, uneducated, or just plain boorish Bokhorst-Heng —52; Wee b: It is that a rights-based approach forces such imaginings to take on starkly defined contours so as to satisfy the demands of legality, which I refer to here as reinvention.

Wee introduces the notion of tolerance-orientated rights right to use the language in homes versus promotion orientated rights active support for the use of their language in the public sphere. The latter is needed if all groups in a linguistically plural society are to enjoy equal protection and respect for their cultural identities, otherwise in comparison with members of the dominant majority, attempts by linguistic minorities to both participate and maintain their cultural identity are hampered.

Wee describes various schools of thought as to why languages should be preserved. One is focused on linguistic diversity. Linguistic communities may actually be quite happy to engage in language shift if they think it is economically or socially worthwhile.