MINELRES: New publication: ECMI Issue Brief #18, Language Loss and the Ethnic Identity of Minorities

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Tue Nov 18 08:43:20 2008

Original sender: William McKinney <mckinney@ecmi.de>

ECMI Issue Brief #18 

Language Loss and the Ethnic Identity of Minorities, by Ulrike Schmidt. 
November 2008, 15 pp.

Many states are still reluctant to recognize the minority status of ethnic 
groups that no longer speak a distinctive minority language. Therefore, legal 
definitions need to account for the fact that many ethnic minorities have lost 
their language and thus need protection on the basis of other identity markers. 
This issue brief wants to take this discussion a step further by asking what 
should be the status of a minority group once its language is lost and thus, 
should the group still be eligible for special minority rights protection. The 
hypothesis tested in this brief is that the identification of ethnic minority 
groups includes many different markers of identity, of which language is an 
important but not the only one. What should matter in the definition of a 
minority is self-identification and the will to perpetuate a distinctive 
identity on the basis of different markers of identity that justify the right 
to the protection of the cultural rights of this minority – including 
revitalization measures for this group’s language. The conclusion that follows 
is that after a minority has lost its distinctive language, it must still be 
recognized as an ethnic minority and thus be able to claim legal protection 
necessary to have its cultural rights promoted, protected, and, in some cases, 
its language rights reconstituted and its language revived through state 
measures. This paper will identify patterns or criteria for ethnic identity 
other than language that distinguish minority groups. It will look into the 
modalities of a group’s self-identification after language loss. After 
establishing matrices of patterns for self- and external identification of 
ethnic groups this paper looks at different ethnic groups who have lost their 
minority language and how they maintain their distinctive identity as opposed 
to the majority community respectively.  An investigation of the impact of 
language loss on ethnic identity requires an interdisciplinary approach, 
combining socioloinguistics, social and political, and legal sciences to look 
at issues of language and nationalism, ethnicity and language politics and 
language policies. This brief represents a first attempt to combine these 
approaches to highlight the different matrices of indicators for distinct 
ethnic identification, as opposed to the majority identity, which justify the 
need for minority language and culture protection, as long as there are signs 
of the group’s willingness to perpetuate its own group identity. This approach 
also proposes the review of possible measures to prevent language loss.

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