The article to be analyzed in the paper at hand is called “Language Rights of Minorities and Increasing Tensions in the People’s Republic of China”, written by Fernand de Varennes. The author raises a problem of exclusionary linguistic policies that limit or totally prohibit the use of any other languages except the national language. He argues that such approaches “can have serious detrimental effects on minorities in terms of access to employment and services” (De Varennes 1).
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To prove this point, de Varennes investigates the case of the People’s Republic of China and its treatment of the three largest minority groups: Mongolians, Tibetans, and Uyghurs. The country was selected due to a large number of ethnic minorities it has, which makes the linguistic problem particularly acute. The major purpose of the article is to find out what disadvantages representatives of different minority groups suffer from exclusive language policies and how their rights are violated thereby.
Giving a brief overview of historical approaches to language, the author aimed to demonstrate that they were always largely dependent on the predominant political movement. The tendency to unification through language first emerged in the middle of the 20th century as a part of Marxist ideology, which perceived minority languages as “obstacles to revolution” (De Varennes 3). However, the policy was inconsistent afterwards, varying from tolerance (and even support) to suppression of national identity of minority groups.
Unfortunately, the current situation leaves much to be desired. The policy shift that happened in the country during the last two decades led to severe discrimination of Mongolians, Tibetans, and Uyghurs to the point of violating their rights. Although there are certain peculiarities in each region, the major tendencies are common. The populations have limited educational, economic, social, and cultural opportunities (De Varennes 26).
In schools, children are instructed predominantly or exclusively in Mandarin Chinese (De Varennes 11). Minority populations have to suffer from unemployment since both public and private sectors provide jobs only to people who are fluent in putonghua-Mandarin (De Varennes 9). This situation cannot help creating tensions since people become radicalized for their language, culture, and religion are on the verge of extinction.
The author of the article believes that the situation can be improved while staying consistent with the historical and ideological background of the country. For this purpose, it is necessary to increase the use of minority languages to the university level, giving students the right to choose in what language they want to be instructed. At the same time, employers should not use Chinese competence test as a condition for recruitment and promotion (De Varennes 27). Coupled with more precise and clear regulations concerning language rights, this policy will ease tensions.
However, despite the fact that such suggestions seem to be reasonable, the international practice shows that it is quite a rare case when governments are eager to promote the use of minority languages, citing the purpose of unifying the nation via the national language as the main excuse. For instance, the Slovak Parliament passed an amendment to the Language Law to restrict the use of other languages in any discourse whatsoever.
Moreover, those who fail to follow the new rule will be fined in the amount of up to 5,000 euros for incorrect language use (even if a minority language was used in healthcare settings). In Malaysia, people go to rallies to express their protest against the use of English for school instruction. In Denmark, it is proposed to remove minority children from their parents if they refuse to give them to daycare centers to study Danish when they are 1 year old (“Violations of Linguistic Rights in the World, the Current Situation”). The inability of all these countries to reach a compromise with their minority groups indicates that a unified global effort is required to ensure cultural, religious, and language protection of those who cannot stand up for themselves.
De Varennes, Fernand. “Language Rights of Minorities and Increasing Tensions in the People’s Republic of China.” Asia-Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law, vol. 7, no. 2, 2006, pp. 1-28.
“Violations of Linguistic Rights in the World, the Current Situation.” Linguistic Human Rights. 2014. Web.