Vol. 5. No. 4 R-10 March 2002
Return to Table of Contents Return to Main Page

Rights to Language: Equity, Power, and Education: Celebrating the 60th Birthday of Tove Skutnabb-Kangas

Robert Phillipson (Ed.) (2000)
New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Pp. 310
ISBN 0-8058-3835-X (paper)
U.S. $29.95 (Also available in cloth U.S. $69.95)

Language is a very deep part of humans and we tend to identify ourselves through it. The major language right we possess is the right to learn and use our own language, but this right is often forgotten not only by the speakers of other languages but also by the very speakers of minority languages, whichever they might be. When talking about language and language teaching it is often forgotten how many languages exist; as a consequence, minority languages receive a smaller attention from Applied Linguistics. Generally speaking, lack of linguistic rights runs parallel with lack of other civil rights. Linguistic human rights is a topic which has been given little reflection in the academic literature. The reason for that may be that linguistic human rights deals not only with linguistic issues but also with political ones. Rights to Language includes a variety of papers that tackle the issue of linguistic human rights from many different viewpoints, including the ideas of scholars who come from scientific specialisations closer to human rights than to language and linguistics.

The collection of papers included in the book is organised into five parts, each of which starts with a quote from Tove Skutnabb-KangasÕs works:

  1. The first part, Language: Its diversity, its study, and our understanding of it includes articles about language diversity which try to define it from different points of view. All of the documents show the need for stopping the trend towards standardisation and disappearance of the less spoken and taught languages.
  2. The works included in the second part, Rights: Language rights, their articulation and implementation, focus on the meaning and scope of linguistic rights.
  3. Part three, Equity: justice for speakers of all languages, deepens on the issue of linguistic rights and fair distribution of resources for the necessary maintenance and encouragement of languages. Readers are shown how equality and integration does not necessarily mean assimilation.
  4. In Power: policies for multilingualism the included documents deal with the idea of power as related to language. We are confronted with the reality of certain multilingual situations and we are shown the empowering force language possesses in social contexts.
  5. The fifth part, Education: affirming diversity, confirming rights, gives an overview of what should be done regarding education and linguistic human rights. The articles included in this part explain how minority languages are taught and tell us how they should be taught so that children can fully develop their potential knowledge of their own language as well as that of other languages.

Robert Phillipson edits the book as a celebration of his wife Tove Skutnabb- Kangas's 60th birthday. At the end of the book he adds a final part, entitled Integrative comment: living with vision and commitment. In it he gives his own view on the book and states a series of ideas that help us understand even better the issue of linguistic human rights.

The book fully accomplishes the objective of providing a clear picture of the issue of linguistic human rights. I would recommend it for those who are new to the topic, as it is so clear and broad. Regarding practical application of its contents for TESOL teachers, I feel Rights to Language will mainly influence TESOL teachersÕ feelings and attitudes towards speakers of less widely used or less widely taught languages. I can hardly find any relevance of the booksÕ contents to the actual enhancement of the teaching of English, as it is such a widely spoken and taught language. Even more, English is shown in several of the papers as the main language that detracts from the importance of other local languages.

Robert Philipson has done an admirable great job of editing this book as it clearly reflects the spirit led by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas.

Carmen Pinilla Padilla

© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.

Editor's Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page for purposes of citation..

Return to Table of Contents Return to Top Return to Main Page