Language Policy in Federal and Devolved Countries: Recognition, Inclusion and Current Issues: Number 66

Language is an integral element of what it means to be human. It allows people to express feelings, opinions and beliefs. Although language can unite people, history shows that it can also cause discord or conflict, particularly when speakers of minority languages are marginalized or face systemic discrimination. Territories, where multiple languages are spoken, have sometimes been divided with the intent of creating countries where most people could speak and live freely in the same language.

In other multilingual territories, federal states have been created, or formerly unitary states have evolved toward federal or quasi-federal (devolved) structures. In such countries, the recognition and protection of language rights are often important ongoing issues – in part because of the links to personal and collective identities. Another element in the constitutional and political dynamic is the widely accepted conception that language rights are human rights.

To this end, in collaboration with colleagues, I developed for the Forum of Federations a project on language policies (broadly interpreted) in 11 multilingual federations and countries with a significantly devolved structure of government. In addition to providing an overview of the country’s linguistic demography, constitutional protections and language policies, authors were asked to address a common set of questions:

  • What changes to the regulation of language – constitutional, legislative, administrative – have been proposed or are being debated?
  • What are the pressures and who are the main actors behind the proposed changes?
  • Which changes have received the most attention and/or seem the most feasible?

The papers on the 11 countries are listed in the first section of the references cited in this paper. All are available (open access) on the Forum of Federations website.