Why linguistic territorialism in the UK does not justify differential minority language rights

Ethics and Education 5 (1):3-13 (2010)
Despite the declarations of international documents on minority language rights, provision is patchy for supporting minority languages in the UK, where since the 1980s governments have deliberately or unwittingly greatly raised the profile and comparative standing of English. The partial exception to this trend has been the treatment of indigenous/regional minority languages, stimulated by policies of devolution intended to revive or create a sense of national identity, and to redress perceived historic linguistic injustices. In a multicultural state or region these apparently reasonable goals appear to conflict with current views of citizenship that argue for inclusiveness and equal treatment for all under the law. In particular, the question arises why indigenous minority languages should receive official support and funding that is denied to speakers of minority ethnic languages. In this article, I examine various justifications offered for this, including higher population levels, the geographical concentration of indigenous speakers, the long historical ties between regional language and culture, and the notion of promotional rights. I attempt to show each argument lacks force and ignores the fact of natural language change. I argue for an approach to indigenous languages that weights support and funding according to a range of factors including the number of minority speakers, their perceived need and the benefits that would flow from funding. Support from the local community and private sources could also be encouraged
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DOI 10.1080/17449641003590530
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