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Seminar: Language rights, self-determination and language survey data, Jane Simpson, 19 Oct

Australian National University, Jane Simpson

Date: 9 October 2018

Seminar: Language rights, self-determination and language survey data

Speaker: Jane Simpson

When: 19 October, 3.30pm-5pm

Where: Basham Room, Baldessin Building, ANU


I discuss three related issues:  language rights, Indigenous Australian ‘self-determination’ and Australian language survey data. Language rights are complex, bringing in both the rights of individuals and the rights of groups.  They include rights arising from the nature of language as something which is used both to communicate ideas (communicative rights) and for expressing associations (emblematic rights).  Language rights interact with the right to self-determination, because the emblematic language right is guaranteed by the ISCEC as part of self-determination, and also because communicative rights are essential for people to assert their rights to self-determination. People have to know what their rights are and how they can assert them, before they can engage effectively with the nation-state in self-determination. They need to be able to access and provide information in a language they understand. Similarly, for policy-makers to afford people their right to self-determination, they need to learn about areas which may be outside their own experience (e.g. monolingual English speakers recognising rights to receive and provide information in other languages).  Finally, people need to be able to identify themselves as a minority group wanting to exercise the right to self-determination in different aspects of their lives, and the nation-state policy-makers need to be able to recognise the existence of minority groups.  One standard way of doing this is through local and national survey data, for example the Australian Census.  But how good the evidence obtained through these surveys is depends on a number of factors, including who funds the survey, what questions are asked, and who asks the questions.  These interlinked topics of language rights, self-determination rights and survey data are discussed in light of the Australian government policy on ‘Indigenous self-determination’ adopted in 1973, and the subsequent history with respect to the role of languages in education and the fraught questions of bicultural education and of identifying groups through questions on language in surveys. It draws  in part on joint work with Denise Angelo, Emma Browne, Inge Kral, Francis Markham, Carmel O’Shannessy, Hilary Smith and Danielle Venn for the National Indigenous Languages Report.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University