georgesI learnt that Georges Moustaki had passed away while flying to Dublin to attend the first gathering of such importance of language commissioners from various parts of the world but more often than not from Canada.

Somehow, it seems to me that this was more than a coincidence. Moustaki was among the first truly multicultural people I ever met and he shared that feeling of being a world citizen, a true Cosmopolitan.

This revived some cherished memories about why I became involved with plurilingualism and multiculturalism. I guess I was brought up in several languages and countries like Joe (as Edith Piaf used to call him) and then went to Canada to write my master thesis on Canadian Official Language Policy in the mid-eighties…Attending this conference thus brought back my still intact enthusiasm for the key question of language planning, something I rather neglected lately to focus on international English and education.

I believe this was a rare, maybe unique so far, privilege to attend this first International Conference on Language Rights.

Venice 157

It gathered 10 distinguished language commissioners, ombudsmen, language board CEOs from Europe (Ireland, convener, Catalonia, Wales, Finland, Kosovo), South Africa and…4 Canadian representatives (Commissioner of Official Languages, Languages Commissioner of Nunavut, French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario and New Brunswick Commissioner of Official Languages ).

Let me quote their Vision and Purpose in bringing back this event and also let me wish Ireland a happy 10th Anniversary of its Official Language act :

International Conference on Language Rights: Vision and Purpose

Ireland’s Official Languages Act (2003) enacted 10 years ago and the legislation is currently under review.

Language commissioners from all over the world to participate.

Emphasis on the role of the state and the community in regard to language rights and obligations in the context of languages that are under threat as community languages or languages of choice.

The sharing of best practice, the exchange of information and lessons learnt in the areas of languages will be core objectives of the conference.

The conference will provide an opportunity to learn from policy and practice in other countries and allow the position of Irish, both in Gaeltacht and through the country, to be evaluated in an international context.

This event will allow language commissioners from all over the world to meet to discuss the formation of an international association of language commissioners. (Ó Cuirreáin, Seán (2013), ‘An Coimisinéir Teanga’, paper given at International Conference on Language Rights: Sharing best practice, Dublin Hilton.)

Venice 117Hats off for all chairpersons who managed to keep everyone on timing tracks, something rare enough to be mentioned, and more especially our friends Peadar Ó Flatharta Venice 038(picture on the right) and Collin Williams(left pix). Both did an outstanding job and Collin Williams’ report less than 15 minutes after the end of the session was a « morceau de bravoure » we all savoured !

The high representation of the Canadian is in itself a living proof of the constant interest Canada holds in linguistic questions. Some of us in the audience, namely Profs. Pierre Foucher (Ottawa U) and Michel Doucet from the University of Moncton, wondered then why the Office de la Langue Française wasn’t represented but I guess that almost half the panel was more than enough to provide a rather good picture of languages situation.

Please find the notes I took, according to my good old habit nobody complained about. Let me simply mention that I throroughly enjoyed this event but would have wished participants had been as honest as they were in the last session under the talkative maestria of former Finish Foreign Minister and Education Minister of Finland, Hon. Pär Stenbäck !

Indeed until last session, commissioners, apart from the very lively Welsh, Ontario and Kosovo commissioners, had been quite formal in what sounded like the repetition of their webpages. However pushed by the incisive questions of Minister Stenbäck, they gave some rather lively though at time embarassed pictures of their exercise. It boiled down to their deplored lack of independence due to the mandate attributed to them by authorities and not by Parliament, their lack of funding , the lack of demand from the individuals themselves, the crying need in healthcare, the lack of appropriate financial penalties for not complying with the law and the fact that courts, especially in Canada, are where language policies are enforced as opposed to their own Offices.

credit: François Boileau
credit: François Boileau

Since it was the first public exercise of this kind, I would say that this was an immense success both in terms of participation (we were over 120 participants, from Academia to NGOs) and I loved the Sinn Fein’s representative’s conclusion : « Oh, we’re doing fine with Irish in Belfast, problem is with the South, maybe it should be forbidden to speak Irish there too and they’d start speaking it eagerly again ».

At least, I can say I never heard so much Irish (it’s not politically correct and anyhow improper to say Gaelic !) in my life as all the Irish speakers spoke solely in Irish. Due to the location, and probably the price, all the other commissioners spoke in English, hell being paved with good intentions !

Enjoy the notes and do send me questions as usual or post comments. This helps me clarify any points.

I am posting the intervention in the order they were given. The qualificatives are of course totally my own responsibility.


The Classical:

Fraser, Graham (2013), ‘Commissioner of Official Languages, Canada’, paper given at International Conference on Language Rights: Sharing best practice, Dublin Hilton.

the three Canadian Commissioners, Boileau, Carrier and Fraser with their Ambassador in Dublin, credit François Boileau (website
the three Canadian Commissioners, Boileau, Carrier and Fraser with their Ambassador in Dublin, credit François Boileau (website

Pleased to be back to Ireland. Interested by the idea about this association of language commissioners. I’m the only Canadian here that is not a lawyer, so pleased to speak before lawyers so they have time to correct me. Ireland is the right place for this first conference.

Language, power, nation and identity are what we work with on a daily basis. Canada has still some way to go to fulfill its promises of equality.

Has studied the various approaches in all parts of the world. Canada is too large for a single individualist approach, closer to territorial approach but it’s not Switzerland or Belgium…. Key recommendations are now in Offical Languages Act, such as multiculturalism which stands that all citizens are equal. Some of the recommendations which were then revolutionary are now self evident such as race and origin. Controversial bilingual districts were never adopted.

Canada is celebrating its 43d anniversary of bilingualism but the first interpretation was in 1958 at Parliament. 1963 Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.

1965 stark assessment of the Canadian crisis: Right to use and to learn by Trudeau. 1969 first act. Public was entitled to the language of their choice depending on the geographic reality.

1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, reinforced language rights with education clauses.

1988: major amendments, new version of the act which brought controversy in Western Canada with Newspapers headlines such as ‘si vous ne pouvez pas lire ceci vous ne pouvez pas travailler pour le gouvernement fédéral’

in fact 4.5 bilingual positions today, was less in the past!

New official languages Act: equal status, rights and privileges, support minority community French and English.

2005 new amendment to strengthen the government’s commitment.

The pillar of our country is our linguistic duality which combines civil and common law traditions.

Respect for both languages and for monolingual citizens. Federal institutions should be bilingual so that citizens don’t have to be!

Individual but also collective rights, something that the new version takes into consideration.

Significant demand is essential because without them, the individuals lose their rights. I see my role as a bridge builder. I encourage dialogue. Part cheer leader, part nag!

175 employees, 4 branches and 5 regional offices. Protection, Promotion and Prevention.

Act does not define what a positive measure is as regards minority language communities.

43 years after the act, the country is changing, newcomers, French language schools throughout the country, both languages on TV but French sometimes an afterthought on official events. Where values are concern, language rights are the essence.

Monetary damages for violation are not reflecting the importance of these fundamental rights. If they are so immutable and inseparable they should be attributed the proper value. Symbolism isn’t enough, we have to put substance into damage compensation.

Presence of both languages has to be taken for granted just as should be the availability for wheel chairs facilities for people with disabilities.

Q&A (DRM): No use of French at all, something of an afterthought maybe? Somewhat embarrassed answer: he apologized and simply recognized that he was eager to compel with the time frame.

On bilingual education Immersion system outrageous problem 200 000 immersion enrolled. French language schools with some limited access even for children coming from francophone countries.

The Self-Confident:

Ribó, Rafael (2013), ‘Catalan Ombudsman’, paper given at International Conference on Language Rights: Sharing best practice, Dublin Hilton.

Sindic de Greuges de Catalunya. Speaks in Catalan for a few words.

sociological data

Spain is a plurilingual state 47,27 million. a bit more than half live in a unilingual territory.

the rest Galicians 2.8 6%Venice 021

Bask 2.3 4.5%

Catalan …forgot to write his number, could be 15% except if you divide artificially into Valencian etc…

Spanish constitution gives the official status to Castilian, while in Art 3 al.2 speaks that the other languages can be official in the respective self-governing Communities.

There is no single state institution that uses other languages than castillian in their daily life.

Cervantes Institute is unilingual to such an extent that specialists of our most famous writers are outside Spain (US and England)

Franco’s dictatorship

1979 Equality

1983 and 86: new

98% understands now Catalan

Council of Europe considers a great example.

Occitan recognized an official language in Catalan

at the age of 14, exam to prove full trilingualism Catalan, Castillian and English. Their results are better in Castilian than in the rest of Spain.

Catalan present everywhere such as twitter etc…all mass media

Consumer rights and linguistic norms in Catalan Statute 2006: Meets resistance from really powerful brands

public sectors: both languages are attended. Problem in Courts lowering level of Catalan for fear of translation.

Right to live in your own language

Right and respect to live together with other speaking communities

right to learn other languages and cultures in an open way

120 languages in Catalonia 18 foreign born populations


low percentage: 4000 queries, less than 200 directly linguistic complains: state aparatus in Catalonia, spanish police and civil guard, tax agency, big services as social security on retirement pension. We solved all except the guardia civil! We also get complains from doctors who come from Argentina who don’t speak Catalan.

all these complains are solved.

Nobody is obliged to speak another language.


linguistic conflict is a political strategy from outside Cataloia

attemps to divide Catalan language unity. Harming rights

Catalan demands for self determination

some Spanish anwers for cleavages

a clear, fruitful and positive language inheritance and mandate

catalan and castilian speaking civil unity. A whole and Single People and Community.



Ribo: english education? Not fully answered, he came back on the good figures in spanish but also admitted the very poor english, a spanish and not properly catalan problem.

A Catalan member of the Spanish Embassy stated that

” some assertions are wrong. Being a catalan, I do not share the description that our umbudsman has made. Our duality and richness, I don’t share that bitterness. He’s taking sides””.

The Humanist (please read the article at the end of this article…somehow tempers the praise) :

Zwane, Mxolisi (2013), ‘CEO, Pan South African Language Board’, paper given at International Conference on Language Rights: Sharing best practice, Dublin Hilton.

Very sensitive to Irish solidarity that supported the New South Africa as well as Scandinavian countries.

We come from a long history of oppression. Colonization amounting to Apartheid. Uninvited guest who ended up opressing you.

All indigenous languages were suppressed and our official language was the one of the invadersVenice 032

1948 officialized oppression

We only came out of this through negotiation settlement. Our people aren’t very patient but we are moving forward.

1976 turning point in our struggle with the bans and emprisonnements. Outside the country activities, even in our bedroom we didn’t dare say ANC or PNC…

Afrikaans was the compulsory language then. Up to then you could be educated in English as well.

1990 negotiations commenced

1994 settlement reached. Adoption of 11 official languages. the additional 9 indigenous languages were then adopted. All languages had to be taken into account since language defines our identity.

Translated into Constitution. Section 6: special focus to those which were marginalised till then.

Constitution even mentions almost extinct languages but makes no provisions

Pan South African Language Board :

To promote and create conditions for the development and use of all official language. The Koi, Nama and San languages and sign language.

To promote and ensure respect for all official languages Arabic, Hebrew, Gujarati, Hindi, Sanskrit, German, Greek, Portuguese, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and other languages used for religions purposes in south Africa

1996 final version. Pan SA language Act. one of the first acts since it was a critical point.

Language policy framework for higher education of 2001

Language policy for higher education of 2002

Use of Official Languages Act of 2012: compels provinces to adopt language policies that will reflect constitution.

PanSALB: parliament to play a promotional role as well as developmental one. appointed by parliament and ministry of arts and culture. Technical committee, lexicography unit, provincial languages committees, National Languages bodies.

Jo’burg is the only place where all languages are represented.

Linguistic Human Rights tribunal but we cannot enforce an outcome. For that we need to approach the Equality Court (if we haven’t managed an amicable agreement).

Monitoring and evaluation duty: all state organs have to comply, if not, we can only bring it to Parliament, not to courts.

You can’t jump to court but have to exhaust all intergovernmental procedures first. Lengthy process

We come from colonization from a special type. Communication in English was considered the utmost education. People feel less proud of communicating in their mother tongue as they see it as an illiteracy symptom.

June 16th production of Nama booklet. They are planning a conference to be taken place to attract government attention by increasing the visibility of better practice and issues to be addressed.

I would like to thank Dr. Fernand de Varennes for both immediately expressing his strongest doubts regarding Mr. Zwane’s assertions and communicating me six months later the attached paper regarding strong suspicions of corruption and mismanagement of PanSalb.

PanSALB_The Sunday Independent – 16 Feb 2014 – Page #7


The Practical:

Huws, Meri (2013), ‘Welsh Language Commissioner’, paper given at International Conference on Language Rights: Sharing best practice, Dublin Hilton.

I’m a toddler in the Official Language Commissioners family

Wonderful event for someone like me.

No great tradition about language rights in a country that has no constitution no bill of rights.

3M pax. Latest census 2011Venice 034

20% of welsh speakers

Interesting geographic pattern. Predominates in urban areas, such as Cardiff. Changing population and demographic. GAROWTH IN THE Young people due to welsh bilingual education.

We have been united since 1336 not necessarily through choice to a large country.

1536 act of the Uniion, welsh language was explicitely banned from civic domain in Wales. So a language which until then had been the language of law and institution became the language of community and taith.Until 1901 census. 50% of welsh population spoke welsh.

War economy, 18% in 1950s,

Welsh seen as a language which disabled the individuals.

1960s civil rights movement throughout the world. Increased awareness and civic unrest leading to a demand for Welsh-medium education. Need to protect the individual in special situation such as welsh court system. Lead to 1993 a piece of London based legislation Welsh Language Act. Incredible influence to change the welsh landscape. Established the Welsh Language board and also a regime of lawelsh language schemes. All organisation in public sector to develop a scheme to present how they could deliver welsh language.

600 such schemes, now transfered to welsh language commissioner

Another movement in wales to welsh language television SLC which celebrated its 30th anniversary. Strenghthened the linguistic landscape.

Demand for devolution of political governmental powers. Gradual devolution. Refenda and now a national assembly. We are slowly developing skills of drafting legislation for Wales. We are 25% along the road to political devolution.

The word rights appears only once in the 25 pages of this piece of legislation!

Section one of the legislation gave for the first time since 1336 the official status to Welsh. It’s a critical statement. No such statement anywhere in the UK.

WL Commissioner: promoting and facilitating use of Welsh language and ensuring that the Welsh lanaguage is treated no less favorably than the English language.

hybrid and difficult role. I thought initially it was schizophrenic. I’ve now come to the conclusion it’s more multiple personality disorder!

Section 111 of the Welsh Language Measure 2011: Freedom means nothing in law (an individual may apply….). We have a legislative and stutary authority to investigate. We’re planning to do so especially at primary language healthcare. It’s a critical component of the way you receive treatment. 2 weeks investigation. Call for evidence to look into this issue.

Service delivery (section 28)

policy making (section 29)

operation (section 30)

promotion (section 31)

record keeping (section 32)

For us the real challenge is to build on what has been achieved in the last 40 years of enthusiastic grassroots language planning and to make sure this piece of legislation actually be effective. Not a bureaucratic exercise. To lead to real change through a Tribunal to receive appeals . Requirement to comply, standard, penalty for failing to comply.

The descriptive:

Brännkärr, Malin (2013), ‘Special advisor on language rights, Ministry of Justice, Finland: “Two National Languages”‘, paper given at International Conference on Language Rights: Sharing best practice, Dublin Hilton. (she was so pretty that I forgot to take a photo…she’s the only blond in the group picture and on the panel at the end).

Greetings from Minister of Justice of Finland. Responsible for language issues in Finland.

2 national languages which have co-existed for at least 900 years.

for 700 years, Finland was part of Sweden

1809 part of Russia for 100 years.

Finish then became more involved in education and legislation.

Swedish spoken along coastlines and all people are learning both languages in schools.

2000 new piece of legislation. Conformed both languages “Before courts of Law and other authorities and to receive official language documents in own language”

Linguistic equality, not a minority legislation despite the fact that Swedish-speaking population is much smaller.

New Language Act 1 January 2004 to ensure the constitutional right of every person to use his or her own language and that an authority shall ensure and on its own initiative that the linguistic rights of private individuals are secured in practice.

Parliament is bilingual.

Working language of government is Finish but individuals can contact the government in either language.

local administration (municipalities and regional authorities) bilingual.

No ombudsman but an appointed person at Justice Ministry.

Several ways of action of ministry of justice: implementation of linguistic rights, setting plans and projects, arranging campaigns, doing research, training and retraining, providing information, lobbying. 3 people are working in the Ministry of Justice and provide a Report (next one in June). Statutory duties and also voluntary basis thanks to NGOs, such as the Swedish Assembly based on political cooperation, the Swedish Cultural foundation, association of Finish local and regional authorities etc…several research institutes.

Sami language provisions. (DRM note, she sadly didn’t comment much on this)

Strategy presented in the Strategy for the National Languages of Finland. Starting point is the current legislation. Problems come to practice to adapt the act so that it comes into practice. Challenges in the area of implementation. Immersion teaching.

Ministry of Justice went to Canada and used a lot of the experience to implement its own policy.

One person in each ministry responsible for language matters.

Practical tools: various measures: guidance (how to…), language legislation in projects and working groups, communication issues, publication including language legislation in online publications, language act in procurement procedures, language skills in recruitment, contact person of ministries, a model.

The problem isn’t the legislation but the practice. For example in health services, it’s very hard to find adequate services in Swedish. We are ambitious and intend to achieve a lot.


The future fisherman:

Carrier, Michel (2013), ‘Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick: The New Brunswick perspective:’ paper given at International Conference on Language Rights: Sharing best practice, Dublin Hilton.

I’ve had two terms and am the longest serving commissioner. so I ask for your generosity as I am tired!

Evolution of the legal frameworkVenice 050

Rapid language landscape. Small province. 30% French speakers

Central and southern parts of NB are predominantly Anglophone.

17th century French settlements. At the time the whole Maritime region was called Acadia.

Exile, the Grand Dérangement. (on this Doucet commented later to me about his own family in the woods and the tragedy of his ancestors, saying that derangement was hardly the proper description of what was intended to be a holocaust simply not performed for lack of funds)

Waves of immigration, coming back of exiles.

nb is the only official bilingual province. even before the Governement of Canada

Official languages act, the Act recognizing the equality of the two official linguistic communities also before the Federal Government: more symbolic in nature to a large extent and slow to be implemented. Collective flavour to our linguistic rights.

Canadian charter of Rights and Freedoms. Provides for a solid foundation of our political rights. It applies in NB to the whole of the territory, but members of francophone community, for different reasons, didn’t request services in their language of choice. In many areas, people didn’t ask.

2002: broader scope and improvement. Active offer of services, the establishement of position of Commissioner, Review of Act after 10 years.

Healthcare, in 2002, they discovered that they didn’t have the availability of bilingual professionals. Languages isn’t the prime motivation for such personal. Work in progress.

2009 survey: 82% of the population supports the concept of official language legislations (97% of francophones, 75% of anglos) (source: continuum research).

How do we organize our government to fulfill our provisions? We are certainly a long way in the process…the future probably looks bright.

Dual public school system. One minister but two systems. Duality in education up to post secondary education.

Attitude of our population is attributable to the popularity of immersion programs.

Young anglo parents took to the street to demand to be part of such programs.

Language is influenced by the territory. Many franco communities in anglo areas, centric concept of education. 20 Centres throughout Canada.

How to maintain interest of anglos? identity concept. challenges are still great and social media which penetrate everywhere. Constant bombardment, mostly in English. Proximity of majority language on the territory. Exogamous couples: rising in NB and create an additional challenge.

Vitality of OL in Canada: in Northern NB 73% of francos identify with the franco group only. In the other region it’s lower, 52% in southern NB and in the rest of the provice 33%

How people perceive their language? Researchers Annette Boudreau et Lise Dubois (2007). « Français, Acadien, Acadjonne : Competing Discourses on Language Preservation Along the Shores of the Baie Sainte-Marie », dans Alexandre Duchêne et Monica Heller (dir.) Discourses of Endangerment : Interest and Ideology in the Defense of Languages. Londres et New York : Continuum International, p. 99-121. insist on this issue in their publication recently.

Small province but a leader its researchers and experts are key players on a global basis in this issue.(DRM clin d’oeil à Fernand de Varennes)


Independent scrutiny which can question and challenge individual rights implementation. Reality of being funded by Government yet independent in the legislation does create an issue we are facing.

Recruitment? Test for all civil servants in theory…less so in practice.

At of offer: civil servants can say bonjour but then if they cannot respond, they transfer the call to the proper language speaker. Bilingual team, not individual.

Dialects and standardization discussion at the Q&A. Note about his qualificative: he’s leaving office next month with the self-proclaimed intention to go fishing!


The realistic:

Ó Cuirreáin, Seán (2013), ‘An Coimisinéir Teanga, Eire’, paper given at International Conference on Language Rights: Sharing best practice, Dublin Hilton.

former journalist, now Commissioner serving second term

Background. Irish is the oldest written language in northern Europe but threatened despite status

41% irish speakers, 77000 up 7% daily speakers, 23,000 in Gaeltacht. Probably the only good news I bring today!

official language recognized in constitution

official language of the EU since 2007

Official policy of supporting/promoting language

wide range of official support mechanisms.

Compulsory school subject to leaving certificate, right to use in all courts, in houses of parliament, government minister and department, media, publications

Irish survives as a community language in areas in 7 counties, predominantly on western seaboard

Will language survive as community language in Gaeltacht?


Lack of correlation between language acquisition and subsequent usage, a huge disconnect

inadequate provision of state services through Irish, particularly in Gaeltacht

It boils down to « Speak Irish among yourselves but don’t speak it to us! »

Language provisions in many pieces of legislation

small office 5-7 civil servants. Annual budget 600 000 euros.

We dealt by 2012 with 5425 complaints, 82 formal investigations 198 audits.

Guidebook, annual reports and special reports. 1936 request for advice from state bodies.

Act is currently under review. Public consultation in 2011 but we don’t know the results. amalgamation of Commissioner’s office with ombudsman’s office as part of the same process but said that an independent commissioner should be implement.

clear strong legislation rather than restrict language rights.

Language rights are not favours granted in times of affluence, they are permanent rights, not privelges or favours.

Complaints resolution mechanism as a shield and not a sword.

core element of language act: too little, too late and no joined-up strategy. English as default setting for too long.

Increase in state services through Irish, language awareness, understanding of language rights and obligations, language visibility.

State services through Irish cannot be provided adequately unless staff with Irish are employed and this ought to be addressed at the recruitment stage.

Language legislation is insufficient.

To amend the legislation to create a place and space for th language in public affairs and to move it from the margins to the mainstream.

Two tests: will the amended legislation ensure that state employees serving the Gaeltacht communities are Irish speaking without question or condition and will it address recruitment in public services.

If these questions aren’t addressed, there will be problem.

No government, legislation, commissioner or state agency can of their own, save a threatened language, however all have a role to play together to create the condition to facilitate the public Do we have the leadership to address this?


Sociologist: situation in Gaeltacht is really preoccupying.

Answer: Let me remind François’s word about the death of the last native speaker. Well, the last Native speaker of Irish hasn’t been born yet!

Fraser: can you point out when your lack of independence proved an impediment. In Ireland, it’s a tradition to be independent. Journalists often appointed for that reason.

The Professional:

Boileau, François (2013), ‘French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario’, paper given at International Conference on Language Rights: Sharing best practice, Dublin Hilton.

Overview – French Language Service Act- OntarioVenice 053

Ontario between Quebec, Manitoba and the big giant in the South.

Used to work in Yukon and still vividly remembers the death of the last speaker of a native language, with this lady’s passing away, a language disappeared….

Quebec’s political situation has a direct affect on Ontario. When Quebec enforces a legislation in favour of French, it has an influence on francophone such as myself. In Ontario. “Why don’t you go back to Quebec”. How to assimilate franco-ontarians in Ontario leaflet. Part of our political discourse which, replaced by any other minority would have been a scandal.

400 years of presence in Ontario. over 600,000 francophones, 4.8% of province total population. Yet…How do we define a francophone? who and how you ask the question….Young people identity on being bilingual, due to exogamous marriages. New and inclusive definition.

Newcomers, as soon as they speak a bit of french, will be considered francophone, that’s called inclusion!

credit: François Boileau
credit: François Boileau

Immigration factor as the new reality.

Implementation is the key issue as stated by all other speakers.

Nobody says you have a small right to vote or you can practice your religion from time to time. But language rights are still part of the compromise. 1986 ruling. You have the right to go to court and be heard but not have the right to be understood…Supreme court ruling! Part of a political compromise. Now, necessity to interpret the law as a proactive one.

Independence is absolutely essential. Right now, I report to a minister and I should report directly to the legislative assembly.

Interpretation of services: what is a service? We are missing the point if it’s just a question to provide interpretation. It needs to be tailored to the need of the community. You exist in a language situation as part of a community.

Pragmatic and systemic approach. My office is the same size as the Irish one. Lack of health services, post secondary education. Academic studies help us

Note from DRM: impressive, solid, interesting presentation. Certainly one of the most enlightening in terms of reality of the task, extremely well documented too.


Michel Doucet: in Canada Courts are much more decision making than Commissioners. A: We are lucky to live in a country that respects the rule of law ?

Fraser: can you point out when your lack of independence proved an impediment.

First appointed by the government of Ontario. I saw a window of opportunity early in my mandate. I was sometimes asked not to investigate but would respond that I would bring it to the public…answer was just go ahead.


Then sensitive:

Inutiq, Sandra (2013), ‘Languages Commissioner of Nunavut’, paper given at International Conference on Language Rights: Sharing best practice, Dublin Hilton.

Land of poetry, literature and resilence: I’m happy to be in Ireland.

LanguageS commissioner. 4 months so far.

2M square km. 33.000 people.Venice 068

communities quite dispersed. Very young population 24.8 average. younger than the rest of Canada

We rely on air travel mostly.

85% inuit. 70% Inuktun language speakers.

3 official languages, Inuit language, English and French.

Real problem with the last 2009 census. Nothing about ethnicity, so I had to get back to the 2006 census.

Land claim agreements. First people who had welcomed the newcomers actually made claims to retrieve their territory April 1st, 1999.

Territory have legislative powers derived from Provincial government. We have no political parties, sadly not in our culture.

Office of Terminology.

Minister responsible for languages

We had to change the word complaint as it’s not culturally in line with the Inuit population. Internal policy of bilingual for civil servants.

She then went into her own narrative of why she came into office. In a very emotional and moving manner, she accounted how it was up to the school janitor to teach English to her daughter. Something she resented as a total lack of interest for her people.

The enthusiastic:

Mladenovic, Slavisa (2013), ‘Language Commissioner, Kosovo’, paper given at International Conference on Language Rights: Sharing best practice, Dublin Hilton.

Honestly one of the most refreshing and authentic presentations.

Beginning of my mandate.

Language most important medium of communication. Deserves particular attention in multilingual and multicultural societies.

Kosovo is a multiethnic and multilinguistic country. 2008 Independence. Even during conflict, managed to preserve this plural identity.

90% of population are ethnic Albanians (also Serbs, Bosniacs, Roma, Gurani, Ashkali and Egyptian)

Equal access to services.Venice 058

Modern and sophisticated legislation. 2006 language act under UN administration.

Equal use of Serbian and Albanian in all services. Same for media and education. Law has to be translated in 5 languages

Official language has to adapt to communities. Problem of implementation. Political will and awareness of the public issue.

Numerous challenges: signage, public service offer, OEC pointed out poor translation. Education is provided at all levels in both communities as well as Turkish and ?).

TV and radios in all languages above mentioned.

2007, Language Commission: to ensure implementation of the law,

2011 Saloniki conference: focus on language policy issues. drafting of language policy. Working group to reform and strengthen language commission. UNDP, embassies and commissions were also invited to provide advice. Policy paper on Language COmmission Reform: best practices of Ireland and Canada. They were considered best example. 2012 adoption of the Office of the Language Commissioner. Monitor compliance with the law. Take all necessary measures to ensure compliance wth the law. We can request access to all files of institutions. Can carry out investigations and solve them. We can also issue administrative sanction (legal or disciplinary). Twice a year report to Language policy board and once a year to Prime Minister and Assembly of Kossovo.

In office since 2012 december. Coordinators. Our office is within office of Prime Minister but in a couple of years we will move to our own premises.

Representatives from each community, academia, police and councils.

People still refrain from complains. First because they are unaware of our very existence. So we are now acting to solve this.

I found surprising to discover that even in long established countries such as Ireland and Canada you still have problems…

Note from DRM : I asked him about his first report to the Parliament and he said that there wasn’t much to say at this stage yet but he promised to send the next one for the Prime Minister and we will be in contact.

The Prof:

Williams, Colin (2013), ‘Report and launch of From Act to Action publication: study of language legislation in Ireland, Wales and Finland’, paper given at International Conference on Language Rights: Sharing best practice, Dublin Hilton.

a truly remarkable performance, actually adding even substance to an already quite substantial debate!
partial irishman at this stage. Expertise in language planning policy. Cooperative in Ireland.
advocated for a network of Language Commissioners since 2003

Legislative turn

“every decade I ‘ve seen a new fashing pushing for an agenda”.

Generation preoccupied with education local government and media/IT
Generic turn to individual and group rights either to bolster promotion or to compensate for poor recognition and inadequate services

Mainstreaming language as public good in international law and policies

Need language law be necessarily soft? What sort of law is language law?
Overarching legal framework

Canadian model-template
Federal official languages act
NB act recognizing the equality of the two official linguistic communities vitality essential if indivudual rights upheld
Canadian charter of rights and freedoms-holistic view of Citizen rights.

Ombudsman-commissioner continuum

promotion +/- regulation?
Monopoly or Shared responsibilities?
Hierarchical division and impact
sanction, penalties, purchase
what real powers do Commissioners have to influence behavior?

Whither Commissioners?

advocates, educationalists, investigators and regulators
how are these functions balanced over time?
Is there a switch in emphasis as office matures?
The search for cognate bodies so as to make role more effective

Uniqueness of Language Commissioners

In plural or multilingual societies, LCs can act as bridge builders, conscience, voice and advocate in non-threatening or partial manner
Not quite the great physician in conflict ridden societies, but a force for good, peace and mutual understanding.
Functions: Bridge builder, auditing, ombudsman, liaison…see slide.

Canadian Principles and Virtues

Language policies must be based on respect and have clear mechanism to ensure that rights of citizens are respected.
Entrenched constitutional rights afforded to the linguistic minority
Statutory mechanisms (ombudsman and court remedy) to ensure the language rights of citizens are respected
Education in the other official language.

Independence of Office

Canadian, Catalan, Ontario, NB, Irish, Welsh and Finis systems all prize the independence of office holder to act
Saw evidence of various threats to independence, political, fiscal, resource-based, absorption and integration. HOW TO RESPOND?

Conducting independent investigations under the French language service act in response to complaints or on its own initiaive.
preparing reports on investiagions, including recommendations aimed at improving the provision of French-language sercies
Monitoring the progress made by governement agencies in providing French-language services.
best practice:
Canadian active offer of service: how do you build up an awareness that what you have by right should be translated in practice. Make a case for this.

Key questions and issues

Administrative reticence and lack of buy-in from senior managers
Inconsistent citizen expectations and realities-hence self-restrictive behavious and under-use of potential of official services. Demand not an exact measure of need
Capacity, terminology and usage

Non official languages

what role do non-official languages play in articulating the particular approach to official languages?
Are there fundamental geo-linguistic or teritorial divides which legislation has failed to overcome?
Demolinguistic trends and the absorption of migrants as new speakers? How do we meet their new demands? how to educate and absorb them.

Regarding budget: to be effective it would need to be tripled, but are people ready
Ireland proves that dynamism, not size is vital

Ireland’s questions

Whither language rights

Rights evolve through struggle.
Jurisdictional immaturity in several cases
Language as part of human rights, fundamentally important but how well activated in practice?

How do commissioners evaluate?
keeping up the pressure
recognize the lagging departments/units
schedule thematic evaluation by sector

Venice 145

Who evaluates the ombudsmen?
Annual reports
select committee q&a
special investigation

Costs, neoliberal discourse
how real is the threat the gains made by stealth politics over the past generation are now being dismanteld by neo-liberal arguments and fiscal pressures
How can such pressures be transformed by new discourses and needs-based, public good arguments

Majority’s inclusion and legitimacy for policy

sell the notion that in the long term it’s not only in the interest of the minority

Inclusive definitions
Since 2009, Ontario govement adopted an includive definition of francophone that is based on a new critieria for calculating the size of its franco population.

In Finland
they’ve taken Swedish as a national treasure.
Finish Government prepare a language poolicy action plan for 2011-15

It’s up to the majority
language training courses for public servants, improvement in the natinal curriculum

Lessons learnt

reflect on what people have done.

annoyed at 5 commissioners stating that over 80% of the population are in favour. It’s far more complex otherwise they wouldn’t be in office

What is it about our teaching system that fails to make Irish people really bilingual. Usage in the real world is what really counts.

How to reshape the relative balance between public sector, creating skills and space for a language, and the private and vountary sectors where the action is acute and language shift more evident.
Crunch issue:
where does power reside, how influence diffused, role of supreme courts and legal system, articulation of rights in practice.

Less emphasis today on economic imperatives, the world of work, skills, science, technology, arts and entertainment

where next? International network of language commissioners and regulatory bodies, European language road map, greater awareness of pubic involvment and buy-into official langauge policy and sujite of langauge rights and services
role of civil society in mobilizing pressure.

From Act to Action has now been published! (DRM note: I couldn’t find the link…probably still under press!)

Stenbäck, Pär, et al. (2013), ‘Roundtable’, paper given at International Conference on Language Rights: Sharing best practice, Dublin Hilton.

Venice 148

a vivid and heart to heart discussion on

Questions on independance 1 to 5. Most considered they were around 5 (some like Fraser and Carrier around 4.75 for budgetary concerns) but Boileau and Mladenovic were around 1 admittedly.
question regarding language: rights or privileges? there again, consensus that it’s a right except for the representative of Kosovo for whom a lot of countries including his own view such rights as privileges.

DRM Q on writing in Irish the legislation. First of all nobody could do it, second that’s not cost effective so no reason to do it this way, and …That would be the holy grail! Whereas it’s a co-writing of the law in Finland and Canada

And all this ended with a lovely discussion around an Irish Whisky…honestly not nearly as tasty a Scotch but that’s another story;-)

Venice 200

You can find the link to all presentations on the website of the Irish language commissioner
Also, I’m pleased to announce that the commissioners agreed to form an international association and that they appointed Graham Frazer from Canada as Chair and Seán Ó Cuirreáin as Secretary.

6 thoughts on “International Conference on Language Rights, Dublin, May 24, 2013

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