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The Ethics of Language Choice

By Florian Coulmas | September 30, 2009


Whenever people move they carry their immaterial possessions with them, willy-nilly: their creed, their culture and their language. This kind of baggage is not always welcome. This paper takes issue with immigrant languages, arguing that inasmuch as language is an object of political responsibility it also involves important ethical problems. In monolingual countries, scarce as they are, and in countries with long established and uncontested language regimes, language is as inconspicuous as the air we breathe. But in modern societies whose states depend on highly complex forms of communication, the introduction of a hitherto unused language poses new challenges, both of a practical and ethical nature. Against the background of unceasing migration streams towards developed countries, the question of "language rights" has attracted considerable attention among migration specialists in recent decades. In this context the present paper examines the "territoriality principle" and the "individuality principle" of language use as well as the notion of language rights and addresses the following question: Does the right to move imply language rights? It will also review some of the answers that governments have given to this question.

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Read More: Culture, Ethics, Human Rights, Migration, Global

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