December 8, 2021

As we approach National Human Rights Day (December 10th), let’s consider the Linguistic Human Rights of individuals within and outside of our communities.

“‘Language rights’ and ‘linguistic rights’ are human rights that have an impact on the language preferences or use of state authorities, individuals and other entities.”

(United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, 2017)

These choices made about which language(s) are used in public/private spaces influence the access and opportunities for a variety of language speakers as well as signed languages.

This includes how language is used in:

  • Public education
  • Private education
  • Administrative, Health and Other Public Services
  • Justice System
  • Identification of Communities
  • Media
  • Private activities
  • Government
  • Participation in Public Life

(For additional information and practical application of language rights see the “United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues”. Click here for English, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish.)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 at the UN General Assembly. This document addressed the history of human rights and the need for the protection of those human rights. In the 1992 Declaration on Minorities, the rights of linguistic minorities were addressed explicitly. In 2013 independent expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák presented a report addressing explicit concerns, specifically nine areas, of importance for linguistic minorities.

(1) threats to the existence of minority  languages and linguistic minorities;
(2) recognition of minority languages and linguistic rights;
(3) the use of minority languages in public life;
(4) minority languages in education;
(5) minority languages in the media;
(6) minority languages in public administration and judicial fields;
(7) minority language use in names, place names, and public signs;
(8) participation in economic and political life; and
(9)the provision of information and services in minority languages.

(Report of the Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák)

In honor of Human Rights Day, let us empower Linguistic Minorities by amplifying the importance of preserving Linguistic Human Rights.

Let us recognize that there are power imbalances as a result of privilege in language spaces and work to rectify these power imbalances through self-reflection, advocacy, and reconciliation.


Dra. Rivera Pagán


Izsák, R. (2012). (rep.). Report of the Independent Expert on minority issues. United Nations. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from

OHCHR | Language Rights of Linguistic Minorities. (n.d.). United Nations Human Rights. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from

United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Language Rights of Linguistic Minorities: A Practical Guide for Implementation (2017). Retrieved December 8, 2021, from

P.S. If you would like to share your experiences with language policies, comment on this blog post 🗣🎧📖✍🏽👀🤟🏽

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