Universiteit Leiden

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The Prescriptivism of Language “Rights”

  • John Edwards (St. Francis Xavier University & Dalhousie University)
Tuesday 1 May 2018
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


Discussions of language within and across settings – particularly where minority groups are involved – often touch upon issues of ethics, justice and rights in the most cursory way (if, indeed, at all). More frequent is a rather glib invocation of ‘rights’, accompanied perhaps by a mention of some linguistics declaration or other. Arguments then proceed, apparently on the basis that the existence of, and the consequent force behind, language rights can be assumed as real. There is no doubt that language rights are important, as are the principles from which they emerge, but matters of such centrality, matters that underpin linguistic perceptions and procedures (and sometimes policy), cannot simply rest upon the view that their existence is obvious and therefore need not be investigated. To be more specific: a right that is claimed but is not enforceable is not a strong pillar for either social or linguistic action. So, this talk is built around the clarification of a simple point: claims are not the same thing as rights.

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