Welcome to the website
of the movement for
Linguistic Human Rights
in the World

A place for
information, discussion
and action concerning
Linguistic Human Rights:


Digno kaj justeco por ĉiu el ni

Dignidad y justicia para todas y todos

Dignité et justice pour nous tous

Dignity and justice for all of us
Lingvaj Rajtoj | Diritti Linguistici | Droits Linguistiques | Linguistic Rights

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas

Language, Education and (violations of) Human Rights

Dr. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas: Language, Education and (violations of) Human Rights. Symposium on Linguistic Rights, UN Geneva, 24-04-2008

Geneva, 24 April 2008

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas - keynote speech

See the slides
(pdf version, in a new window)


The education of Indigenous and minority children in most countries today violates the right to education (Magga et al., 2005). It can sociologically and educationally be termed genocide, according to the UN Genocide Convention; legally, it can be seen as a crime against humanity (Dunbar & Skutnabb-Kangas, 2008).

The maintenance of diversity is counteracted by the increasing dominance of English (Phillipson 2008) and other killer languages. These are often learned subtractively, at the cost of the mother tongues (Skutnabb-Kangas 2000), instead of additively, in addition to mother tongues. Schools participate, through assimilationist genocidal education, in processes of linguistic capital dispossession (Harvey 2005, Skutnabb-Kangas & Phillipson, in press), and reproduction of poverty (Sen 1985, Misra & Mohanty 2000, Mohanty 2000, Mohanty & Minati 2007).

The most important Linguistic Human Right (LHR) in education for Indigenous peoples and minorities, if they want to reproduce themselves as peoples/minorities, is an unconditional right to mainly mother tongue medium education in non-fee state schools. This education (of course including teaching of a dominant language as a subject, by bilingual teachers) should continue minimally 8 years, preferably longer (Skutnabb-Kangas 2000, fin press a, b, Skutnabb-Kangas, Phillipson, Panda & Mohanty 2009; Heugh, 2009, Skutnabb-Kangas & Heugh, forthcoming).

Today, binding educational LHRs are more or less non-existent. According to pessimistic but realistic estimates, 90-95% of today's spoken languages may be very seriously endangered or extinct by the year 2100 (Krauss, Maffi & Yamamoto 2004). If this scenario is not counteracted strongly and immediately, the estimate could also be that most languages to go would be Indigenous, and most of the world's Indigenous languages would no longer be learned by children in 2100 or be completely extinct. Since much of the knowledge about how to maintain the world's biodiversity is encoded in the small Indigenous and local languages, with the disappearance of the languages this knowledge (which is often more accurate and sophisticated than "western" "scientific" knowledge, see ICSU 2002) will also disappear; this means destroying the prerequisites for human life on earth.

Is this what we want?

References (updated 27 July 2008):

  • Dunbar, Robert & Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove (2008). Forms of Education of Indigenous Children as Crimes Against Humanity? Expert paper written for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII). New York: PFII. [In PFII's system: "Presented by Lars-Anders Baer, in collaboration with Robert Dunbar, Tove Skutnabb-Kangas and Ole Henrik Magga"]
  • Harvey, David (2005). The New Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Heugh, Kathleen (2009). Literacy and bi/multilingual education in Africa: recovering collective memory and knowledge. In Mohanty, Ajit, Panda, Minati, Phillipson, Robert, Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove (eds) (2009). Just Multilingual Education. New Delhi: Orient Longman.
  • ICSU (The International Council for Science) (2002) Science, Traditional Knowledge and Sustainable Development. www.icsu.org.
  • Krauss, Michael, Maffi, Luisa & Yamamoto, Akira (2004). The World's Languages in Crisis: Questions, Challenges, and a Call for Action. In Sakiyama, Osamu, Endo, Fubito, Watanabe, Honoré & Sasama, Fumiko (eds). Lectures on Endangered Languages 4. Suita, Osaka: The Project "Endangered Languages of the Pacific Rim", 23-27.
  • Magga, Ole Henrik, Nicolaisen, Ida, Trask, Mililani, Dunbar, Robert and Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove (2005). Indigenous Children's Education and Indigenous Languages. Expert paper written for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. New York: United Nations.
  • Misra, Girishwar & Mohanty, Ajit K. (2000). Poverty and Disadvantage: Issues in Retrospect. In Mohanty, Ajit K. & Misra, Girishwar (eds) (2000). Psychology of Poverty and Disadvantage. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 261-284.
  • Mohanty, Ajit K. (2000). Perpetuating Inequality: The Disadvantage of language, Minority Mother Tongues and Related Issues. In Mohanty, Ajit K. & Misra, Girishwar (eds) (2000). Psychology of Poverty and Disadvantage. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 104-117.
  • Mohanty, Ajit K., & Panda, Minati (2007). From mother tongue to other tongue: facilitation transition in multilingual education of tribal children in India. Delhi, India: Project Proposal submitted to Bernard van Leer Foundation.
  • Phillipson, Robert: The linguistic imperialism of neoliberal empire. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 5/1, 2008.
  • Sen, Amartya (1985). Commodities and capabilities. Amsterdam: North Holland.
  • Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove (2000). Linguistic Genocide in Education - or Worldwide Diversity and Human Rights? Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum (also 2008, Delhi: Orient Longman).
  • Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove, Phillipson, Robert, Panda, Minati & Mohanty, Ajit (2009): Just MLE: looking ahead. In Mohanty, Ajit, Panda, Minati, Phillipson, Robert, Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove (eds) (2009). Just Multilingual Education. New Delhi: Orient Longman.
  • Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove (in press a). Education of Minorities. Fishman, Joshua A. & Garcia , Ofelia (eds) Handbook of Language and Ethnic Identity. 2nd revised edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove (in press b). Human rights violations in Indigenous and minority education. In Satu Gröndahl, Satu, Straszer, Boglárka & Börestam, Ulla (eds). Festschrift for xxx. Centrum för multietnisk forskning.
  • Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove & Phillipson, Robert (in press). The politics of language in globalisation: maintenance, marginalization, or murder. In Coupland, Nicolas (ed.). Handbook on Language and Globalization. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove and Heugh, Kathleen (forthcoming). Concluding Chapter (temporary title). In Heugh, Kathleen & Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove (eds). (forthcoming). Successful multilingual education - from Ethiopia to the world (working title; will change). New Delhi: Orient Longman.
  • Tove Skutnabb-Kangas' homepage: www.tove-skutnabb-kangas.org

الحقوق اللغوية | Беларуская | Dansk | Deutsch | English | Español | Esperanto
Français | Italiano | Magyar | Nederlands | Português | по-русски | Slovenčina
Српски | Українська | 语言权
© 2008-2012 Studio-Pro.ch & Action Linguistic Rights, UEA
Terms of Use | Privacy Notice | Legal | Contact
traduko | informado | sitemap