Valuing all languages


There are more than 6,000 languages in use around the world, most of which are spoken by fewer than 10,000 people. Around 96% of the world's population uses just 4% of its languages. There are dominant languages, minority languages and endangered languages. Languages are often valued differently based on their economic relevance, and individuals have different attitudes towards different languages because of personal experiences or as a result of the historical development of the region they are living in.


What you will learn in this section

The aims of this section are to:

  • learn more about the role and value of linguistic diversity as an integrated part of modern society;
  • reflect on different attitudes to linguistic and cultural diversity throughout history;
  • identify and reflect on attitudes of individuals and society on the value of languages, language varieties and cultural ways of living;
  • reflect on effective ways to act against discrimination based on language or culture.



Talking about linguistic rights

What is your attitude towards different languages?

As a starting point for your reflection/discussion, you could consider the following:

  • the languages you use or deal with in daily life
  • the languages (majority or minority) officially recognised in your region/country
  • the languages represented in the media
  • the languages of schooling in your region/country and how they are positioned in the school curricula
  • the languages of neighbouring countries
  • the languages you would like to learn

Do you know about your linguistic rights? Or the linguistic rights of people coming to live in your region/country? Do you know what linguistic rights are covered by the basic law or the constitution of the region/country where you live? If you don't know, try to find out.

Try to create a "language policy" for the school/institution you are working/studying in.

There are some interesting official documents that are relevant on a multilateral basis. Choose one and reflect on its relevance. Give brief feedback based on your personal views about the rights defined in the documents.

Example 1Individual linguistic rights (Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Article 2 - All individuals are entitled to the rights declared without discrimination based on language.

Article 10 - Individuals are entitled to a fair trial, and this is generally recognized to involve the right to an interpreter if an individual does not understand the language used in criminal court proceedings, or in a criminal accusation. The individual has the right to have the interpreter translate the proceedings, including court documents

Article 19 - Individuals have the right to freedom of expression, including the right to choose any language as the medium of expression.

Article 26 - Everyone has the right to education, with relevance to the language of medium of instruction

Example 2: Girona Manifesto

Developed by the Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee, the Girona Manifesto is a 10-point document designed to be translated and widely used as a tool to protect linguistic diversity around the world.

Example 3: European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages

The Charter exists in different languages.

Videoclip production

Try to make a short videoclip about linguistic rights and discrimination based on language.

To get an idea of how it could work, have a look at this video on languages and human rights.


Dealing with linguistic discrimination 

In everyday life we encounter situations where people are exposed to discrimination. This discrimination could be based on race, age, gender, religion, culture, abilities or language. Often, language discrimination is based not on the language itself but on underlying factors such as ancestry, place of origin and ethnic origin.

How do you feel about the following situations?

  • Situation 1 (Austria): "If you speak German with an accent, it shows that you are not intelligent."
  • Situation 2 (Germany): "When I spoke Croatian with my daughters in the playground I was looked at in a derogatory way by German-speaking families."
  • Situation 3 (Germany, a teacher to a student at school): "I wouldn't have thought that you were a dialect speaker!"
  • Situation 4 (Austria): "If you don't speak German properly I won't rent you this flat, sorry."
  • Situation 5 (Austria, a mother to her 5-year-old daughter, who was speaking in dialect): "Speak in a more beautiful language!"

Have you ever personally experienced a situation like these? If so, give more details by writing a short text.

Here are some examples of texts describing linguistic discrimination in different contexts (kindergarten, school, society).

There are rarely official policies on discrimination and language, but here is one example: the public policy on discrimination and language in Ontario, Canada.
The introduction says:

"The Code states that it is public policy in Ontario to recognize the inherent dignity and worth of every person and to provide for equal rights and opportunities without discrimination. The provisions of the Code are aimed at creating a climate of understanding and mutual respect for dignity and worth of each person so that each person feels a part of the community and feels able to contribute to the community.

The policy statement sets out the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s position on language-based discrimination in the areas of employment, services, contracts, and membership in trade unions, trades, occupational associations or self-governing professions."

This policy gives an idea of the importance of such guidelines and includes a range of concrete examples/case studies. Have a look at the document and the examples of discrimination based on language and underlying factors.

  • Would you find it helpful to have a policy like this?
  • Do you know of a similar policy in your region/country?
  • Which policy aspects could be adapted for your region/country?


Header image based on "I <3 2 read" by Kate Ter Haar (CC BY 2.0).