Language, Language Policy, and Citizenship

Territorial vs. Personal Rights

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Territorial vs. Personal Rights. In addition to these notions, it is useful to think of language ‘rights’2 (or rights enjoyed by individual citizens) as dichotomized along a number of dimensions—-territorial versus personal, and tolerant versus promotional.

  • Territorial Rights are those that can be enjoyed or exercised only within a particular part (or subjurisdiction) of the larger state (or territory). Thus in the U.S., the state of New Mexico has officialized Spanish to the extent that it can be used by legislators in the New Mexico State Assembly, even though this right is not enjoyed by Spanish speakers in adjacent territories such as Arizona or Texas. Similarly, the French language enjoys certain territorial rights in Louisiana but not in Missouri or Maine. In the former USSR, languages other than Russian had territorial rights only, while Russian speakers could expect to enjoy their ‘rights’ anywhere over the whole of Soviet territory.

  • Personal Rights are rights to services that are portable anywhere within the polity. Previously in Canada, French was a territorial right (only in Quebec and parts of New Brunswick) but this was then extended to be a personal right, portable to any Canadian province, even predominantly English-speaking provinces. In the former USSR, Russian speakers had personal rights, and could expect to use their language anywhere in the Soviet Union. Speakers of other mother tongues in the USSR did not have those personal rights, but only territorial rights.

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