Economic Opportunities and the Protection of Minority Languages

Law and Ethics of Human Rights 1 (1):134-168 (2007)

In this Article, Professor Suk defends the moral legitimacy of liberal states’ legal protection of minority languages. Many opponents of minority language protection have argued or assumed that legal intervention denies individuals the right to choose the majority language and the economic opportunities often attached to the dominant language. This Article argues that such arguments overlook another category of goods that are necessary to individual autonomy: relational resources. Individuals have an interest in maintaining their ancestral languages because doing so is essential to maintaining one’s relationship to one’s family and community. The relational interest cannot easily be compared with economic opportunities, because these two dimensions of autonomy are incommensurable. As a result, a liberal state should avoid forcing its citizens to choose between these incommensurable goods. By adopting policies that protect minority languages, while also ensuring individuals’ access to economic and political participation in the majority language, a liberal state can manage and balance the conflict between these important competing aspects of autonomy
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DOI 10.2202/1234-1234.1004
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