Issue Brief #18 available
Many states are still reluctant to recognize the minority status of ethnic groups that no longer speak a distinctive minority language. Therefore, legal definitions need to account for the fact that many ethnic minorities have lost their language and thus need protection on the basis of other identity markers. This issue brief wants to take this discussion a step further by asking what should be the status of a minority group once its language is lost and thus, should the group still be eligible for special minority rights protection. The hypothesis tested in this brief is that the identification of ethnic minority groups includes many different markers of identity, of which language is an important but not the only one. What should matter in the definition of a minority is self-identification and the will to perpetuate a distinctive identity on the basis of different markers of identity that justify the right to the protection of the cultural rights of this minority – including revitalization measures for this group’s language. The conclusion that follows is that after a minority has lost its distinctive language, it must still be recognized as an ethnic minority and thus be able to claim legal protection necessary to have its cultural rights promoted, protected, and, in some cases, its language rights reconstituted and its language revived through state measures. This paper will identify patterns or criteria for ethnic identity other than language that distinguish minority groups. It will look into the modalities of a group’s self-identification after language loss. After establishing matrices of patterns for self- and external identification of ethnic groups this paper looks at different ethnic groups who have lost their minority language and how they maintain their distinctive identity as opposed to the majority community respectively. An investigation of the impact of language loss on ethnic identity requires an interdisciplinary approach, combining socioloinguistics, social and political, and legal sciences to look at issues of language and nationalism, ethnicity and language politics and language policies. This brief represents a first attempt to combine these approaches to highlight the different matrices of indicators for distinct ethnic identification, as opposed to the majority identity, which justify the need for minority language and culture protection, as long as there are signs of the group’s willingness to perpetuate its own group identity. This approach also proposes the review of possible measures to prevent language loss.
Issue Brief #18 can be downloaded here.