Angéline MARTEL
Professor Gomes de Matos, you have been active in promoting linguistic rights. Could you briefly trace their history? How did the notion of linguistic rights originate?
The concept of Human Rights has multiple origins and so does the idea of linguistic rights. If human rights are a contemporary form of the doctrine of natural rights (those which human beings have because of their humanity), linguistic rights are a late 20th century development.

To start probing the diverse origins of linguistic rights, five bibliographical resources are recommended:

  • (2) An in-depth reading of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948) and of the recent Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights (Barcelona, Pen International, CIEMEN, and UNESCO, 1996)
  • (3) A reading of the papers from the first congress of the International Association of Comparative Language Rights entitled : Langue et Droit/ Language and Law - Actes du Premier Congrès de L'Institut International de Droit Linguistique Comparé.
  • (5) A reading of Tove Skuttnab-Kangas and Robert Phillipson’s (Eds) insightful and illuminating book: Linguistic Human Rights. Overcoming linguistic discrimination. This is a must for background knowledge on a category/domain of human rights which reflects humankind's search for the right to a linguistically just and peaceful life.
Angéline MARTEL
What would you consider to be landmarks in the history of linguistic rights?
First of all, the very publication of the 50-year-old Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and secondly, the International Seminar on Human Rights and Cultural Rights, held at the Federal University of Pernambuco's Law School (1987), in which was written and proclaimed the Recife Declaration, one of the documents inspiring the subsequent Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights.

A bibliographical landmark was the pioneering statement by David Crystal in his The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language in which the British linguist emphasized that "people have language rights which should not be neglected" and that "Only concentrated public attention on linguistic rights issues will promote the recognition of such rights...".

The establishment of an International Institute of Comparative Linguistic Law in Montreal, in 1986, is another significant event in the young history of linguistic rights.

Last, but not least, the Barcelona Declaration (as the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights is also referred to), proclaimed June 6, 1996, and now available on the Internet at this site



Angéline MARTEL
In your view, how generic is the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights of 1996, also known as the Barcelona Declaration, and how can it be understood?
The UDLR "takes as its point of departure the principle that linguistic rights are individual and collective at one and the same time". In Article 3.1, the Declaration makes explicit five "inalienable personal rights":
  • the right to be recognized as a member of a language community;
  • the right to the use of one's own language both in private and in public;
  • the right to the use of one's own name;
  • the right to interrelate and associate with other members of one's language community of origin;
  • the right to maintain and develop one's own culture.

In Article 3.2, four examples are given of "the collective rights of language groups":

  • the right for their own language and culture to be taught;
  • the right of access to cultural services;
  • the right to an equitable presence of their language and culture in the communication media;
  • the right to receive attention in their own language from government bodies and in socioeconomic relations.

Notwithstanding such exemplification of individual and group rights, the document has the "language community" as its core concept. Accordingly, in Articles 7 through 52, the highest frequency phrase readers will come across is: "All language communities....". For example, Article 10 states that: "All language communities have equal rights". Since the Declaration's focus is on "historical language communities within their own territorial space" (Art.2), probing the document will become a creative challenge to all those concerned with formulating the linguistic rights of groups and persons.

Angéline MARTEL
The UDLR distinguishes between "historical language communities" and "language groups", proposing for the language groups, a lower, lesser scale of rights than for historical language communities, as you have indicated. What impact do you think such a distinction can have on language collectivities and languages?
Rigorously speaking, linguistic communities are realized by groups of many different kinds and the latter are made up of persons. The UDLR has stressed communities because languages have traditionally been defined as systems shared by communities, thus, for example, there is the macrocommunity of Portuguese-using countries, the macrocommunity of French-language-using countries, etc.

As a comprehensively designed document, the UDLR uses the language community as a point of departure and then leads its readers to the next abstract level, that of language groups. To do otherwise would have made the document much longer and much more detailed than it is. The important point to consider is that linguistic rights, whether collectively or individually considered, should be harmonized, acknowledged, promoted, respected, implemented in a balanced way so that rights and corresponding responsibilities help persons function appropriately as citizens.

The availability of the UDLR will make it possible for us to give specificity to the rights there-in formulated, thus paving the way for a world-wide discussion of group rights and individual rights.

The dissemination and application of the UDLR is bound to have a significant impact on language legislation in general, as well as on the updating of national constitutions as regards the linguistic aspects of citizenship. The document will certainly impact on language-in-education planning and policy (for example, on language planners' increasing attention to linguistic rights issues as we can see in Language Planning. From practice to theory, by Robert B. Kaplan and Richard B. Baldauf Jr.), and will bring about a rethinking of language teacher education programs all over the world.

More importantly, the UDLR will contribute to enhancing multilingualism and interculturalism. It will also help in promoting what the sociolinguist Terrence G. Wiley refers to as " the status of previously ignored languages and cultures ".



Angéline MARTEL
How can the notion of linguistic rights inspire language teaching and learning?
Section 2 of the DULR on Education, and particularly Articles 23 to 30, could inspire language educators to formulate their own checklists of teachers’ and learners’ linguistic rights. This is what I had done even prior to the UDLR 's proclamation.

Here are four examples from my Checklist of Children's Language Learning Rights, the key-question being : Do you give your very young learners the right to : think about how they learn languages and to experiment with different learning strategies? If yes, how can they

  • learn to explore the fun element in language, that is, through playful activities such as games, songs, quizzes, and so on ?
  • learn languages in an ecologically relevant manner, that is, by considering how, as human beings, we can interact with the environment in mutually respectful and dignified ways, thus living up to our ecolinguistic identity ?
  • learn languages as a means of contributing to the goal of communicative peace, thereby fostering a peace-loving-and-promoting world ?

Here are three examples of language teachers' linguistic rights, as I formulated them in the mid-eighties :

  • Language teachers have the right to be introduced to the nature of language, its structure, and uses in a systematic, applicationally relevant way
  • Improve/refine their communicative competence in the languages they teach
  • Learn how to evaluate learners' spoken/written texts in a humanizing way.

Section 4 of the UDLR on Communication media and technology could very well inspire visual communication and media literacy researchers to formulate the linguistic rights of media professionals such as journalists. For example: How would the rights of such an important profession be expressed? How about the other side of the coin, that is, the corresponding linguistic responsibilities? By pairing linguistic rights and responsibilities, different professional groups in the media will be experiencing in depth linguistic democracy and will be helping educate 21st century students who opt for a career in the media.

Section 5 on Culture, especially its Article 44, can be inspiring to all those who share my conviction that not only do human beings have cultural rights but INTERcultural rights, as well. In a recent plea for intercultural rights, I made the point that intercultural rights are conceived as another growth point from which an ever broadening and ever-deepening concept of human rights can develop.

Hopefully, the examples provided can illustrate that possibilities for exploring the UDLR are theoretically unlimited, as is human creativity. How specific such linguistic rights (and other rights closely related to them) can become will depend on how detailed the researcher wants to be. It's up to you, to the groups you belong to, to probe this new member of the family of human rights. By doing so, you'll be contributing to helping humankind build a world with less and less linguistic violence, injustice, discrimination, bias....

Angéline MARTEL
You alluded to a new notion, that of "ecolinguisitic identity". Could you elaborate on your view of this notion?
Every human being has an identity, a set of personal characteristics by which he or she is recognizable. Some of such features are of a physical, psychological, social, cultural, political, spiritual nature. Given the central role played by language in human cultures, more specifically so as a system or resource with which language users represent the environment they live in, a case can be made for what I would call an ecolinguistic identity, which would be more comprehensive than what has been traditionally referred to as a stylistic identity. As members of ecosystems called languages, we activate our ecolinguistic identity when, for example, we name entities in Nature, as well as when we metaphorize about human (sometimes inhuman!) actions by using names of animals. For example, in Brazilian culture, if you say that someone is an animal, you mean that such person has socially undesirable behavior or is rude, ill-mannered, etc. Similarly, in English-speaking-cultures, when you say "You’re acting like an animal", we're representing our perception of another human being through an ecolinguistically questionable metaphor. This is a very crossculturally revealing area of research which should be probed by all those interested in what some social scientists would call ecoliteracy.
Angéline MARTEL
Given your pioneering experience in linguistic educational rights, how have your been implementing your approach in the Brazilian context ?
Because of my being involved in the preparation of teachers of Portuguese (as a native and foreign language) and of English (as a foreign Language), I have been able to apply a human linguistic rights and-communicative-peace approach in both contexts through Seminars and Workshops for teachers and teachers-to-be in several Brazilian cities.

Not only do I consider the importance of teachers' perceptions of their own linguistic rights, but also learners', since pedagogy has to be centered on two cooperating, and mutually motivating partners: the teacher and the learner.

Another strategy used has been the publication of checklists of linguistic rights in newsletters and journals. More recently, as the outcome of the integration of my insights from human rights, peace, education, sociolinguistics, and christianity, the Federal University of Pernambuco Press published my book Pedagogia da Positividade. Comunicação Construtiva em Português.

I feel that, since teachers of Portuguese as a native language are the largest group in the language education profession in Brazil, they should be sensitized to, and prepared for, linguistic rights-centered approaches, which will certainly enhance the fascinating 5000-year-old history of language teaching.

The movement in favor of linguistic educational rights in Brazil has been gaining ground, with the support of colleagues from other universities. A particularly fruitful initiative was a Seminar held at the Federal University of Santa Catarina in 1996, the outcome of which was a Statement on the Linguistic Rights of Students in Brazilian Schools.

Last, but not least, the XIX World Congress of FIPLV, held in Recife, March 24-26, 1997, helped introduce linguistic rights more formally to a Latin American audience, through the official presentation and discussion of the UDLR in a Round Table, chaired by Dr. Michel Candelier, then President of FIPLV. I'm sure that as the UDLR becomes better known and gets discussed --questioned and refined --, it will play a significant role in the Brazilian Foreign Languages Curriculum for Secondary Schools.

Right now, insights on linguistic rights are being incorporated into the new Guidelines Project of the Brazilian Ministry of Education for Foreign Language Education. I am one of its Consultants.


Angéline MARTEL

How would you sum up your perception of linguistic rights ?


If I had to condense my perception of linguistic rights through just one principle, I would put it this way: Every human being has the right to a linguistically free, peaceful, and responsible life.

In such summary-statement are included three of the essential components of what I call a constructive communicative life: freedom, peace, and responsibility. Language is both a powerful marker of individual and community identity and the awareness, recognition, formulation, and more importantly, the implementation and assurance of linguistic rights to persons, groups, and communities is another challenging responsibility to be shared universally by people and institutions.

In such respect, educational systems have a vital role to play in helping translate texts such as the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights into more easily understood texts, aimed at readers of different age groups. Given the political foundations of linguistic rights and the growing interest of international Law, specialists in the emergence of such member of the family of human rights, it is up to all those engaged in this cause to help advance it, so that the UDLR, once universally discussed and refined in discourse, can be officially recognized by the United Nations.

May I close by urging your readers to do their share and help bring about that goal ? By doing that, we will be putting into practice the guideline with which I start my workshops on linguistic rights for language educators : Love your linguistic neighbor.