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LG474 Language Rights

Prof. Peter L. Patrick

Dept. of Language & Linguistics

Human Rights Centre

University of Essex





On this page:

·         Directions

·         Essay titles

·         Criteria



Deadline: The deadline for all coursework is Thurs of Week 28 (ie, 12 April 2018).

Feedback: If you submit your work on time, you will receive feedback on Faser no later than Fri of week 32, ie 11 May 2018.

In addition, the Dept. is piloting a new draft-feedback plan. If you submit a draft to me by Fri 23 March 2018, I will give you initial feedback (no mark, just helpful comments) by Mon 9 April 2018, leaving you a few days to take on board my comments. (If I can get it back earlier I will, but it can’t be guaranteed for everybody. I will try to do it on a first-come, first-served basis!)

Please see the Assessment webpage for details on submission, rules, etc.


Do one of the questions below. The length requirement of paper is 3,000 words (not including references, assignment titles, or any appendices).


All students are strongly advised to come see me in office hours, or email me, after selecting an assignment (or while trying to decide), in order to check your understanding of the work and ask any questions. For some essay choices, you will need time to gather sources. Students who do badly on assignments are invariably those who have not spoken to me about them!


For details of assessment, rules, referencing, how to avoid plagiarism, etc., please look here. See course references for general works.


Essay Titles


1. Develop a case study of one or more national, group or minority language rights situations. A comparison is recommended, though a single detailed case may be accepted. Your paper should

·      Identify a sociolinguistic issue or problem.

·      Describe it in detail.

·      Frame it in terms of language rights.

·      Refer to specific national or international instruments (constitutions, legislations, declarations, resolutions, conventions etc.).

·      Consider existing language planning or policy efforts or remedies critically; if you cannot find existing ones aimed at your situation, consider ones that have been tried or recommended elsewhere, and examine how they might be applied.

·      If possible, recommend a practical course or courses of action. What obstacles can you anticipate to these?


2. Identify a situation in which recent or ongoing conflicts involve issues of language and identity.

·         Describe the conflict situation briefly and clearly. (“Conflict” involves violence and is more serious than simply e.g. a clash of rights, which could be treated under #1 above)

·         Identify the divisions between major ethnic, national, religious or other groups and their associated language varieties.

·         What is the status of the language varieties which are linked closely to the conflict?

·         What is the recent history of their development and use?

·         How is language involved alongside other human rights issues in the conflict?

·         What national or international legal instruments are relevant to language rights in the situation?

·         Are there similar or parallel situations as far as the role of language in the conflict? What happened or is happening in them? (Keep this part of description brief, unless the essay plans to compare two situations at similar length.)

·         What are likely outcomes of the conflict? What impact would they be likely to have on language rights and use?

·         If possible, recommend a practical course or courses of action. What obstacles can you anticipate to these?


3. Develop a case study of indigenous peoples' language rights and problems. A comparison is recommended, though a single detailed case may be accepted.

  • Explain why the group(s) you are considering qualify as “indigenous” under accepted definitions, instead of e.g. a minority or autochthonous group (which would be treated under #1 above).
  • Describe the extent of language endangerment in your case(s).
  • Make efforts to apply standard indicators or measures of endangerment (eg Fishman’s GIDS, Fishman 1991; UNESCO Language Endangerment Framework, 2003; Extended GIDS, Lewis & Simons 2009) to your case(s). NB: A case for which you can offer few or no answers is not a useful choice as the main focus of your essay.
  • What preservation or revitalization efforts have been attempted in the indigenous communities you study? What successes and set-backs have occurred?
  • Place these descriptions in a language rights perspective by

(a) identifying specific national or international instruments that provide a base for the language rights of the indigenous people you study, and

(b) documenting to what extent the host nation(s) observe or comply with these instruments.

  • Drawing on the language rights literature, consider critical responses to language preservation or revitalization efforts, either made directly for the indigenous communities you study or for comparable contexts.
  • If possible, recommend further courses of action. What obstacles can you anticipate to these?


4. Some LR problems are the focus of specific instruments aimed at them (e.g. ECRML on traditional European minority languages), and thus these instruments may exclude other deserving problems (e.g. the ECRML excludes recent immigrant languages and dialects of dominant languages). Using case studies, outline such a gap and develop an argument of how it could best be addressed – either by creative application of existing rights and instruments, or through the development of a new instrument. Be aware that the latter is much more difficult and unlikely to succeed in practice. All solutions require you to specify and define terms and categories as precisely as you can (you may draw on existing legal or institutional definitions or those supplied by academics writing on the topic).


Other essay questions are possible, and I often accept them. If you want to do something else, please formulate a question early and approach me with it by mid-February, as if it is accepted, it will probably require adjusting.


General Advice and Criteria:

  • Make sure your essay is framed in a language rights perspective. Some literature takes that viewpoint, but other sources do not; you’ll need to do some work to integrate these. Where appropriate, make use of general concepts, definitions and issues from HR/language rights: e.g., negative vs. positive rights; individual vs. collective rights; non-discrimination vs. equality; definitions of “language minority”, “linguistic diversity”, “regional or minority language”, “genocide”, etc.
  • All topics require you to refer to specific HR/LR instruments. You normally can’t just focus on one, however, and you have to make appropriate arguments. E.g. you can’t just focus on the ECRML, and how it excludes recent immigrant languages, by saying it should include them – it’s too late now, and was aimed specifically at traditional European minority languages; what other existing instrument(s) would give a basis for such rights?
  • Even in a single case study, it’s important to draw on other situations for comparison of how problems resemble contexts elsewhere, what results have been achieved in similar efforts, etc.
  • Developing a list of sources is an important part of the project (but you should consult with instructor, too). You should expect to look at primary literature from the areas of language rights, language policy/planning, and socio-linguistics generally, extending as needed to material on language/minority situations by nonlinguists working in e.g. law, sociology, politics, economics or human rights. A handful of sources is not enough! 12 to 20 is an absolute minimum, and you should not pad the number with lots of media reports or other secondary sources.
  • Take a critical attitude to your sources – not striving to find fault, but rather to examine assumptions and arguments objectively. You may need to use a mix of academic and generalist sources, so be aware of the pitfalls of relying on the latter uncritically – and be sure to include enough of the former.
  • During the second half of term you may present some descriptive material from your readings to the class as part of a group presentation. Use this opportunity to strengthen your approach and anticipate problems that need resolving.
  • Please also see this page (link) which offers specific points for you to consider in writing your assignment. They are mainly offered with Q1 in mind, but may be useful for other essay titles as well.



Undergraduate assessment

For general rules and further resources, please consult the course page on assessment. It is assumed that you are familiar with Dept. and University rules, especially those regarding referencing, lateness, and cheating, which are addressed there. You can find them in the Undergraduate Student Handbook (Linguistics link). If you are an HRC student, please consult your own Handbook and rules. If you have any questions, it is your responsibility to consult me.



References (Abc) (Topic)

Main Coursepage for LG 474

Peter L. Patrick's Course Page

Peter L. Patrick's home page


Page last updated on 22 January 2018