Language rights

Authored by: Goro Christoph Kimura

Routledge Handbook of Japanese Sociolinguistics

Print publication date:  June  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9780415790277
eBook ISBN: 9781315213378
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter presents the main characteristics of the language rights discourse in Japan, examines its spread in the academia, considers its practical achievements and discusses the implication of the Japanese case for the concept of language rights in general. In the last decades, language rights have become a key term in Japanese sociolinguistics and related fields of research for discussing issues of linguistic inequality from a comprehensive perspective. Five different social groups have been at the center of attention: non-native speakers of English, autochthonous linguistic minorities, immigrants, the Deaf and people having difficulties accessing information. While language rights are internationally often regarded as closely related to national or ethnic minority rights, personality and personal development is seen as the main basis for language rights in Japan. This is partly due to the fact that the Deaf movement has played a precursor role in applying language rights in Japan. The Deaf claim also functioned as a trigger to link the language rights discourse with disability studies. This approach contributed to an original Japanese development of language rights. In addition to the internationally discussed “multilingualism oriented language rights”, the discourse in Japan can be said to include a strong focus on “disability-oriented language rights”. This development, enabling inclusion of different kinds of individuals linguistically disabled due to social structures and conditions, can contribute to overcome some of the critiques to language rights beyond the Japanese context.

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