What are language rights?

What are Language rights?

As human beings, we use language to do a variety of things on a daily basis. Try to come up with a list of all the purposes for which you use language in one day. The list below could be a start.

  • We greet each other and exchange pleasantries: How are you? How are the children? When last did you see so and so? Is your father better? etc.
  • We conduct business with officers of government and others: We may need to register the birth of a child; get our child admitted to a school; find out what the new law says; write a will; get information about how to protect ourselves from diseases and natural disasters, and information on how to lead a healthy life; etc.
  • We need to educate ourselves and our children
  • We need to participate in the running of our communities
  • We need to give creative expression to our feelings and ideas
  • We need to take part in the rituals of our ancestors and to celebrate and develop our traditions
  • We need to preserve the knowledge and the creative works of our culture and we need to be able to access any documents or other recordings of our history, our folklore, our culture.
  • Etc, etc, etc.

Now imagine a situation in which we’re all allowed to use our home language to do all those everyday things. That demonstrate the ideal example of what we mean by language rights.

Nations that try to respect the language rights of their people, do so by first identifying the language communities within their nation. A rough definition of a language community is a group of people who speak a common language and want to be identified as such. In the case of Guyana, this would mean that speakers of Creolese (Guyanese) would make up one speech community. Speakers of each of the different Amerindian languages would represent different speech communities. And speakers of English will form another speech community.

Each speech community will have the same language rights; the language of each such community will be given equal treatment. This means that Creolese and each of the Amerindian languages will be treated just like English is now treated. Each group will be able to use its language to conduct its everyday affairs.

In Guyana at this moment, only the language community that speaks English enjoys all the language rights. To extend these rights to all, it would require that we provide what is necessary to allow this to happen. For example, documents will have to be written in each of the languages, education will be offered in each of the languages, and materials and facilities will be provided so that each community can broadcast in its own language.

 The European Charter for regional and minority languages is one document that details the rights which it recommends that member governments give to the minority groups within their countries. 

http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/en/Treaties/Html/148.htm  (Council of Europe: European charter for regional & minority languages)

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