Mercator International Symposium: Europe 2004

Mercator International Symposium: Europe 2004: A new framework for all languages? The right to mother tongue medium education-the hot potato in human rights instruments Address by Dr. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas in Opening Plenary “As long as we have the language, we have the culture. As long as we have the culture, we can hold on to the land. ” ————————(pg. 1) In an article called “Justice for sale.

International law favours market values”, Mireille DelmasMarty (2003) discusses the danger in the conflict between legal concepts based on, on the one hand, “universal” market values , on the other hand, genuinely universal non -market values. The genuinely universal non -market values obviously include individual and collective human rights, as a part of the universal common heritage of humanity.

Even if philosophy of both human rights law and philosophically oriented parts of political science now start accepting that there shouldbe normative rights in relation to at least some parts of this heritage (in their terminology “common public assets”), the legal protection of market values is incommensurably stronger than the protection of non-market values. DelmasMarty exemplifies this with the fact that there is no universal international court that individuals could turn to when their (non -market value based) human rights have been violated.

“Individual rights are entirely a matter for states, and reports are the only form of monitoring” (ibid. ). And if this monitoring, which I have exemplified with the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention, does not support educational linguistic human rights strongly, there is a problem. On the other hand, laws based on market values are being spread by more or less global organizations like the WTO (World Trade Organisation) and, it seems to me, even more dangerously, WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) 25. These laws are being developed extremely rapidly, with harsh sanctions for violations.

———-(pg. 13) Economist Francois Grin offers through his discussion of “market failure” in his book about the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (2003b) excellent arguments for resisting market dominance for public or common assets/goods like cultural products: “Even mainstream economics acknowledge that there are some cases where the market is not enough. These cases are called ‘market failure’. When there is ‘market failure’, the unregulated interplay of supply and demand results in an ina ppropriate level of production of some commodity” (Grin 2003b: 35).

In Grin’s view, many public goods, including minority language protection, “are typically under supplied by market forces” (ibid. ). The level becomes inappropriately low. Therefore it is the duty of the state(s) to take extra measures to increase it. —————(pg. 14) Each language reflects a unique world- view and culture complex, mirroring the manner in which a speech community has resolved its problems in dealing with the world, and has formulated its thinking, its system of philosophy and understanding of the world around it.

In this, each language is the means of expression of the intangible cultural heritage of people, and it remains a reflection of this culture for some time even after the culture which underlies it decays and crumbles, often under the impact of an intrusive, powerful, usually metropolitan, different culture. However, with the death and disappearance of such a language, an irreplaceable unit in our knowledge and understanding of human thought and world- view is lost forever. (Wurm, ed. 2001: 13). ——— (pg.

17) As long as a numerically small mother tongue does not give you a better job with a higher salary than shifting to a numerically and politically more powerful language, there are, according to thisway of arguing, few arguments to maintain these mother tongues (and bilingualism is often not considered as a real option; the thinking here is often either/or). ——— (pg. 18) I have earlier (Skutnabb -Kangas in press e) claimed that most of these arguments are presented by researchers who tend to write in English and be native speakers of one of the numerically big languages themselves, often English.

This does not necessarily mean that they are monolingual themselves, and many of them are global research nomads, holding jobs all over the world, often making the usual rounds in rapid succession, from Britain or USA or Canada to Sydney or Singapore or Hongkong, etc. This means that these researchers have mostly never experienced that their own dominant language has bee n threatened. It seems that many dominant language speakers are much less aware than dominated language speakers of the non -market values of their ownlanguages, and, consequently, of other people’s own languages.

At the same time, they are often not aware (or do not want to be aware) of the market benefits that they themselves have access to because of being speakers of dominant languages. Often they take both these benefits and the fact that others are learning their language in a non -reciprocal way, for granted, and are not willing to in any way compensate speakers of dominated languages for these non -earned benefits; they are linguistic free-riders as Philippe van Parijs puts it (2003: 167).

This compensation would obviously be fair, even in terms of thetypes of justice that many lawyers accept. Several researchers have started discussing issues in these economic compensation terms (e. g. Grin 2003b, 2004, van Parijs 2003). ——— (pg. 19) Another partially overlapping distinction, also made by Grin (e. g. 2003b: 24-27), can be used to bridge the gap betwe en social market value and non -market value arguments.

In describing arguments used to answer the question why anybody, including society as a whole, should bother about maintaining (minority) languages, Grin differentiates between moral considerations arguments and welfare considerations arguments . Most of the legal discourse, including the linguistic human rights considerations, refer to norms about the right tolive in one’s own language, even if the extent of the ensuing rights is debated (ibid. : 24- 25). In contrast, the emphasis of the welfare – based argument is not on whether something is morally ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but on whether resources are appropriately allocated.

The test of an ‘appropriate’ allocation of resources is whether society is better off as a result of a policy . ——— (pg. 20) Moral or political principles, even if they are sometimes described as “human rights”, are not necessarily part of internationallaw. They are things that governments “should” do, if they are “nice”, not something they “must” do. Being nice is not a very convincing argument and is less persuasive than rights and freedoms that have the weight of the law behind them. ——— (pg. 20)