Indigenous Peoples Linguistic Rights and Practices in Multilingual Europe

Irène Bellier

LAIOS, CNRS-EHESS, Paris, France

WS153: Constructing Multilingual Europe? Micro and Macro Perspectives

By its political nature, the European Union is a multilingual entity that oscillates between the defense of the national official languages of its member states and the promotion of foreign language learning as a means to adapt individuals to globalization. With the mercantile orientation of EU, English became a language central to European communication and the world market. A multilingualism that includes necessarily English is in progress in the European societies through the enactment of public policies and different combinations that are determined by the selection of language individuals make in the course of their training and professional careers. As the choice is usually reduced to official languages, minority languages that are part of the World heritage are fighting for being accepted and taught, not to disappear completely. Social and economic integration of both the regional and indigenous minorities and migrant peoples presently leads to the obligation to learning official languages and to the contention and oblivio of minority languages, with many consequences for what regards the respect of human and Peoples rights, the recognition of citizenship equality and the self-perception of one’s own dignity and capacity.

European and international organizations show different forms of multilingualism where minority languages are barely heard. In such political settings, though translation and interpretation are organized to and for the national languages that are accepted by the institution, effects induced by linguistic domination can be observed. Lexical and phonetic variations affect the construction of meanings when speakers from different mother tongues use a dominant language, and these variations induce, for those who are not completely multilingual, the selection of particular words and expressions, contributing to the formation of a codified international language.

The communication will focus on the practices I could observe in the European Commission and in the United Nations in the bodies dedicated to indigenous peoples issues where indigenous representatives, who fight for their rights to see positive changes in State governance, shift from their mother tongues to the dominant languages accepted by the institution. Their choice reveals a political posture regarding colonization as for instance when a Ma’ohi speaker selects English instead of French to stand up against “French Polynesia”, or spatial identification when an Amazigh from Morocco selects Arabic, even though he fights against “arabisation”.

Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 18