UNESCO considers the loss of cultural and linguistic diversity as serious a danger for future generations as the loss of bio-diversity is for nature (2003, 8). The rate of language extinction has increased enormously over the past 200 years, and even more since the middle of the past century (Krauss 2007, Salminen 1993). Globalization is seen as the loss of relevance of national borders, especially through technical means, as such it can be seen as promoting intercultural contact. Globalization, however, also entails the support of first world economies, through the efficient export of goods from industrialized countries and the management of cultural diversity in terms of potential markets for the consumption of those goods -‐ thus a ‘global culture’ means in fact a culture of consumption (Banerjee & Linstead 2001). As such, it is a threat to cultural and linguistic diversity and it can accelerate language attrition and death.
This workshop aims at examining the social, historical, political factors and legal practices that have led to the attrition and endangerment of a number of languages in Europe and other parts of the world. The situation of Basque, Breton, Friulian, and Gallo-‐Italic languages will be analyzed in depth, highlighting the combined effect of language policy on the demographic, and socio-‐cultural development of these language communities over the past 200 years. Part of the workshop will be devoted to studying policies and practices aimed at reversing language attrition, and comparing the European cases with Canada and the USA.
The legal history of linguistic rights shows that while the right to speak and receive an education in one’s own language has been recognized since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations (1948), the everyday reality of such a basic human right varies widely from country to country, or even within countries. Particularly striking, moreover, is the fact that despite the variability inherent in the socio-‐cultural conditions of different linguistic communities, the legal instruments of repression, the philosophical arguments that support it and the practices of marginalization that lead to ‘cultural genocide’ are very similar regardless of the time and place where they are applied. So are their sinister results.
These similarities arise out of the recognition that language is one of the supporting pillars of ethnic and cultural identity: by analyzing the role of language in this context, this workshop also conceives of ‘the study of language as a central component of human cultures, social action and perception,’ a theme highlighted by the 2013 LSA Institute.
Banerjee, S. B. and S. Linstead. 2001. Globalization, Multiculturalism, and Other Fictions: Colonialism for the New Millenium? Organization, vol. 8(4):683-722.
Krauss, M. E. 2007. “Keynote -‐ Mass Language Extinction and Documentation: The Race Against Time”. In Miyaoka, O., O. Sakiyama, and M. E. Krauss (eds.). The Vanishing Languages of the Pacific Rim. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 3–24.
Salminen, T. 1993-‐9. UNESCO Red Book on Endangered Languages: Europe. http://www.helsinki.fi/~tasalmin/europe_report.html
UNESCO 2003 Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in the Information Society (CI-‐2003/WS/7)