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Language Education and Social Justice

Language planning or engineering is the term used in the discourse to describe an organized movement whose goal it is to counter the deleterious effects of policy with respect to a given language’s status, modernization, and conservation (Baker, 2001). This effort is typically rooted in a sense of urgency regarding a given language’s viability. According to Baker, more than half of the world’s languages are no longer being transmitted to the children of that linguistic community (p. 50).

Highly coordinated and well funded efforts to revitalize an endangered language have taken place in various countries: Wales (Welsh), Ireland (Gaelic), the Basque and Catalonia regions within Spain and France (Basque and Catalan), Peru and Bolivia (Quechua), New Zealand (Maori) and Israel (Hebrew) to name a few.

The painful legacy of native residential schools which operated in Canada, Australia, and the U.S. for over a hundred years remains all-too-visible in many tragic forms. The schools were set up to ‘kill the Indian in the child” by separating children from their parents in order to ‘civilize’ them, convert them to Christianity and replace their mother tongues with English (de Leeuw, 2009).

Scholars interested in addressing these linguistic ‘crimes against humanity’ (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2009, p.55) have conducted research which has informed government and educational policy world-wide (Haugen, 1987; Fishman 1991; Wong Fillmore, 1991; Cummins, 1994; Skutnabb-Kangas 1999; Baker 2001; Osborn, 2006).

Their efforts are visible in the form of sign laws, official recognition of minority languages, immersion education, heritage language classes, and mother tongue as medium-ofinstruction concessions. Their efforts are affirmed in UNESCO’s 1996 Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights whereby individuals are guaranteed the right to use their own languages in private and in public (Article 3-1), and host countries are prevented from forcing or inducing the replacement of original cultural characteristics with those of the host society (Article 4-2)

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