Language Policy

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 203–224

The Right to Speak One’s Own Language: Reflections on Theory and Practice


DOI: 10.1007/s10993-007-9050-y

Cite this article as:
Wright, S. Lang Policy (2007) 6: 203. doi:10.1007/s10993-007-9050-y


The right to speak one's own language is a right that has only recently been enshrined in law. At first this right was only a negative right (i.e. the right to use one's language in the private sphere without persecution or prejudice), not a positive right (i.e. the right to use one's language in the public space, to be educated in the language, to deal with the state in the language, etc.). As the Council of Europe's Charter for Regional and Minority Languages has been accepted and become law in a number of European states, we encounter a dilemma. In Europe, institutions such as the courts, bureaucracy and education, have tended to use a single standard. Now, minority and regional languages are rarely standardised. What should be done? This paper considers how languages have been treated as defined and static systems for the purposes of nation state language planning. Data from Italy and France reveal that this has become unacceptable practice today. It is at odds with our greater acceptance of diversity and our recognition of the essentially dialogic nature of language.


Regional or minority languageslanguage rightslanguage maintenancetheories of languagestandardisationheteroglossiastructuralistpost-modernistnation building

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Languages and Area StudiesUniversity of PortsmouthPortsmouthUK