Monday, October 13, 2008

Language, Education and (violations of) Human Rights

"Language, Education and (violations of) Human Rights" is the keynote that Tove Skutnabb-Kangas gave at a symposium on "Linguistic Rights in the World, the current situation", at the United Nations in Geneva, in April 2008. The symposium commemorated the 100th Anniversary of the Universal Esperanto Association (UEA) and the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Skutnabb-Kangas argues forcefully that:

The most important Linguistic Human Right (LHR) in education for Indigenous peoples and minorities, if they want to reproduce themselves as peoples/minorities, is an unconditional right to mainly mother tongue medium education in non-fee state schools. This education (of course including teaching of a dominant language as a subject, by bilingual teachers) should continue minimally 8 years, preferably longer. Today, binding educational LHRs are more or less non-existent.

Meanwhile, as she points out, "According to pessimistic but realistic estimates, 90-95% of today’s spoken languages may be very seriously endangered or extinct by the year 2100."

She demonstrates that for children of indigenous and minority groups, dominant-language-medium education policies the world over are both widespread and destructive. She argues that these policies can be described legally (in international law) as "linguistic genocide" and "crimes against humanity".

Her "positive examples" of mother-tongue medium based multilingual education are from India, Nepal, Norway, Finland, and Ethiopia, and adds that there are encouraging reports also from Peru, Bolivia, and Bangladesh. But, as she says, "in today's situation there is a lot of nice talk and far too little action".

"Most countries are hypocritical", she concludes.

Her information-rich talk is best heard (or downloaded as an MP3 file) with the PDF of her presentation - both archived on (so far in English, Esperanto and French - more language-versions to be available soon).

No comments: