Linguistic Reparative Justice for indigenous peoples: The case of language policy in Colombia

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Embargoed until 2021-08-18
Copyright: Todd, Brett
Indigenous societies in the Americas and Australasia experienced many transformations following European colonisation, one of which has been a widespread shift from ancestral languages to the coloniser's languages. Factors contributing to such change in linguistic practices have ranged from the violence’s of conquest, through classroom prohibitions on native tongues as part of assimilatory efforts in new nation-states, to modern-day social and economic forces that privilege the dominant language. Based on the premise that extinction of a community's traditional language represents a significant cultural loss, this thesis proposes a concept of linguistic reparative justice (LRJ). LRJ would require states to undertake reparative measures aimed at redressing the loss or decline of indigenous languages. By exploring state practice in providing reparations to victims of wrongful acts in the recent past, and the debate among legal and political theorists regarding redress to indigenous peoples for the wide range of historic injustices committed against them, the analysis finds justification for a moral obligation to provide redress for language loss. It then examines international human rights law to determine that, at least in some circumstances, there may also be a legal obligation for states to provide language-related reparations. The conceptualisation of LRJ concludes with a postulation of its practical content, being the actions state institutions could take to support indigenous communities in efforts to maintain or revitalise their languages. The second part of the thesis is a case study of the situation in Colombia, where threats to a diverse collection of native languages are exacerbated by the country's armed conflict. In 2008, against the backdrop of a purported state commitment to multiculturalism, the Culture Ministry developed a protection program for ethnolinguistic diversity, followed by a law on languages and linguistic rights of indigenous, creole and gypsy communities. The research reveals how crucial deficiencies in the law coincided with a range of contextual impediments, including a lack of bureaucratic and political will, that interrupted implementation of the legislative measures. The thesis concludes that the new Colombian policies have potential to be a starting point for LRJ. However, further progress towards this objective may require indigenous communities to seek compliance through the courts.
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Todd, Brett
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PhD Doctorate
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