Ethical Theory & Moral Practice

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 181-199

First online:

On Language Rights

  • Eerik LagerspetzAffiliated withDepartment of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyvaskylä

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


In social and political philosophy, linguistic differences are usually seen as one item in the long and indefinite list of Cultural Differences; consequently, language rights are discussed and criticized together with other cultural rights. In this essay, it is argued that a right to use one's own language can be justified by appeal to the practical role of language in human life. The ability to communicate effectively is essential for human autonomy and well-being; thus there is no need to argue that linguistic groups, as groups, are entitled to special treatment, or that language rights are ‘group rights’. Because learning a new language is invariably a costly matter, by recognizing some languages as official languages the state (re)distributes burdens and benefits among its citizens. The task of language rights is to guarantee that these burdens are not distributed in a too unequal way.

group rights language rights liberalism national minorities nationalism neutrality of state