Ma Patrie, C’est La Langue Francaise- Linguistic Imperialism and Minority Language Rights in International Law?
Volume 7 Issue 3-4 (2014)
Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, 1984, describes a society where the government manipulates the thought process of its subjects by forcing them to communicate in a watered-down version of English called ‘newspeak’, incapable of expressing ideas like ‘liberty’. While a causative function between language and thought process has been debunked in modern-day linguistics, it is a reality that legal systems across the world accord gratuitous value judgments to one of the most primordial facets of human identity in an effort to consolidate artificial constructs of nationalism, often with punitive consequences for those who refuse to conform. At this juncture, with increasingly fervent language right campaigns in Ukraine and Northern Ireland and unprecedented rates of language extinction, what legal mechanisms are in place to bind governments into granting minority linguistic communities the rights they are due and keeping threatened languages from vanishing for posterity? This paper seeks to first analyse the processes that underlie linguistic imperialism, by tracing the history of legally enforced linguistic homogenisation in France, and then to mark out patterns of normative language regimes worldwide, before an analysis of international instruments on minority language rights, limitations thereof, and need for substantive overhaul. This paper is part linguistic research and part legal critique. The title has a quote attributed to Albert Camus which translates to “my fatherland is the French language”.