UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF LINGUISTIC RIGHTS
The institutions and non-governmental
organizations, signatories to the present Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights,
meeting in Barcelona from 6 to 9 June 1996,
Having regard to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which, in its preamble,
expresses its «faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human
person and in the equal rights of men and women»; and which, in its second article,
establishes that «everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms» regardless of
«race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social
origin, property, birth or other status»;
Having regard to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 16 December
1966 (Article 27), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
of the same date which, in their preambles, state that human beings cannot be free unless
conditions are created which enable them to enjoy both their civil and political rights
and their economic, social and cultural rights;
Having regard to Resolution 47/135 of 18 December 1992 of the General Assembly of the
United Nations Organization which adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Persons
belonging to National, Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities;
Having regard to the declarations and conventions of the Council of Europe, such as the
European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, of 4
November 1950 (Article 14); the Convention of the Council of Ministers of the Council of
Europe, of 29 June 1992, approving the European Charter for Regional or Minority
Languages; the Declaration on National Minorities made by the Summit Meeting of the
Council of Europe on 9 October 1993; and the Framework Convention for the Protection of
National Minorities of November 1994;
Having regard to the Santiago de Compostela Declaration of the International PEN Club and
the Declaration of 15 December 1993 of the Translations and Linguistic Rights Committee of
the International PEN Club concerning the proposal to hold a World Conference on
Considering that, in the Recife, Brazil, Declaration of 9 October 1987, the 12th Seminar
of the International Association for the Development of Intercultural Communication
recommended the United Nations Organization to take the necessary steps to approve and
implement a Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights;
Having regard to Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization of 26 June 1989
concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries;
Having regard to the Universal Declaration of the Collective Rights of Peoples, Barcelona,
May 1990, which declared that all peoples have the right to express and develop their
culture, language and rules of organization and, to this end, to adopt political,
educational, communications and governmental structures of their own, within different
Having regard to the Final Declaration adopted by the General Assembly of the
International Federation of Modern Language Teachers in Pécs (Hungary) on 16 August 1991,
which recommended that linguistic rights be considered as fundamental rights of the
Having regard to the report of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations Economic
and Social Council, of 20 April 1994, concerning the draft Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples, which viewed individual rights in the light of collective rights;
Having Regard to the draft Declaration of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission on
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, approved at session 1278 on 18 September 1995;
Considering that the majority of the world's endangered languages belong to non-sovereign
peoples and that the main factors which prevent the development of these languages and
accelerate the process of language substitution include the lack of self-government and
the policy of states which impose their political and administrative structures and their
Considering that invasion, colonization, occupation and other instances of political,
economic or social subordination often involve the direct imposition of a foreign language
or, at the very least, distort perceptions of the value of languages and give rise to
hierarchical linguistic attitudes which undermine the language loyalty of speakers; and
considering that the languages of some peoples which have attained sovereignty are
consequently immersed in a process of language substitution as a result of a policy which
favours the language of former colonial or imperial powers;
Considering that universalism must be based on a conception of linguistic and cultural
diversity which prevails over trends towards homogenization and towards exclusionary
Considering that, in order to ensure peaceful coexistence between language communities,
overall principles must be found so as to guarantee the promotion and respect of all
languages and their social use in public and in private;
Considering that various factors of an extralinguistic nature (historical, political,
territorial, demographic, economic, sociocultural and sociolinguistic factors and those
related to collective attitudes) give rise to problems which lead to the extinction,
marginalization and degeneration of numerous languages, and that linguistic rights must
therefore be examined in an overall perspective, so as to apply appropriate solutions in
In the belief that a Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights is required in order to
correct linguistic imbalances with a view to ensuring the respect and full development of
all languages and establishing the principles for a just and equitable linguistic peace
throughout the world as a key factor in the maintenance of harmonious social relations;
HEREBY DECLARE THAT
The situation of each language, in view of the foregoing considerations, is the result of
the convergence and interaction of a wide range of factors of a political and legal,
ideological and historical, demographic and territorial, economic and social, cultural,
linguistic and sociolinguistic, interlinguistic and subjective nature.
At the present time, these factors are defined by:
. The age-old unifying tendency of the majority of states to reduce diversity and foster
attitudes opposed to cultural plurality and linguistic pluralism.
. The trend towards a worldwide economy and consequently towards a worldwide market of
information, communications and culture, which disrupts the spheres of interrelation and
the forms of interaction that guarantee the internal cohesion of language communities.
. The economicist growth model put forward by transnational economic groups which seeks to
identify deregulation with progress and competitive individualism with freedom and
generates serious and growing economic, social, cultural and linguistic inequality.
Language communities are currently threatened by a lack of self-government, a limited
population or one that is partially or wholly dispersed, a fragile economy, an uncodified
language, or a cultural model opposed to the dominant one, which make it impossible for
many languages to survive and develop unless the following basic goals are taken into
. In a political perspective, the goal of conceiving a way of organizing linguistic
diversity so as to permit the effective participation of language communities in this new
. In a cultural perspective, the goal of rendering the worldwide communications space
compatible with the equitable participation of all peoples, language communities and
individuals in the development process.
. In an economic perspective, the goal of fostering sustainable development based on the
participation of all and on respect for the ecological balance of societies and for
equitable relationships between all languages and cultures.
For all these reasons, this Declaration takes language communities and not states as its
point of departure and is to be viewed in the context of the reinforcement of
international institutions capable of guaranteeing sustainable and equitable development
for the whole of humanity. For these reasons also it aims to encourage the creation of a
political framework for linguistic diversity based upon respect, harmonious coexistence
and mutual benefit.
1. This Declaration considers as a language community any human society established
historically in a particular territorial space, whether this space be recognized or not,
which identifies itself as a people and has developed a common language as a natural means
of communication and cultural cohesion among its members. The term language proper to a
territory refers to the language of the community historically established in such a
2. This Declaration takes as its point of departure the principle that linguistic rights
are individual and collective at one and the same time. In defining the full range of
linguistic rights, it adopts as its referent the case of a historical language community
within its own territorial space, this space being understood, not only as the
geographical area where the community lives, but also as the social and functional space
vital to the full development of the language. Only on this basis is it possible to define
the rights of the language groups mentioned in point 5 of the present article, and those
of individuals living outside the territory of their community, in terms of a gradation or
3. For the purpose of this Declaration, groups are also deemed to be in their own
territory and to belong to a language community in the following circumstances:
i. when they are separated from the main body of their community by political or
ii. when they have been historically established in a small geographical area surrounded
by members of otherlanguage communities; or
iii. when they are established in a geographical area which they share with the members of
other language communities with similar historical antecedents.
4. This Declaration also considers nomad peoples within their areas of migration and
peoples established in geographically dispersed locations as language communities in their
own historical territory.
5. This Declaration considers as a language group any group of persons sharing the same
language which is established in the territorial space of another language community but
which does not possess historical antecedents equivalent to those of that community.
Examples of such groups are immigrants, refugees, deported persons and members of
1. This Declaration considers that, whenever various language communities and groups share
the same territory, the rights formulated in this Declaration must be exercised on a basis
of mutual respect and in such a way that democracy may be guaranteed to the greatest
2. In the quest for a satisfactory sociolinguistic balance, that is, in order to establish
the appropriate articulation between the respective rights of such language communities
and groups and the persons belonging to them, various factors, besides their respective
historical antecedents in the territory and their democratically expressed will, must be
taken into account. Such factors, which may call for compensatory treatment aimed at
restoring a balance, include the coercive nature of the migrations which have led to the
coexistence of the different communities and groups, and their degree of political,
socioeconomic and cultural vulnerability.
1. This Declaration considers the following to be inalienable personal rights which may be
exercised in any situation:
the right to be recognized as a member of a language community;
the right to the use of one's own language both in private and in public;
the right to the use of one's own name;
the right to interrelate and associate with other members of one's language community of
the right to maintain and develop one's own culture;
and all the other rights related to language which are recognized in the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 16 December 1966 and the International Covenant
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the same date.
2. This Declaration considers that the collective rights of language groups may include
the following, in addition to the rights attributed to the members of language groups in
the foregoing paragraph, and in accordance with the conditions laid down in article 2.2:
the right for their own language and culture to be taught;
the right of access to cultural services;
the right to an equitable presence of their language and culture in the communications
the right to receive attention in their own language from government bodies and in
3. The aforementioned rights of persons and language groups must in no way hinder the
interrelation of such persons or groups with the host language community or their
integration into that community. Nor must they restrict the rights of the host community
or its members to the full public use of the community's own language throughout its
1. This Declaration considers that persons who move to and settle in the territory of
another language community have the right and the duty to maintain an attitude of
integration towards this community. This term is understood to mean an additional
socialization of such persons in such a way that they may preserve their original cultural
characteristics while sharing with the society in which they have settled sufficient
references, values and forms of behaviour to enable them to function socially without
greater difficulties than those experienced by members of the host community.
2. This Declaration considers, on the other hand, that assimilation, a term which is
understood to mean acculturation in the host society, in such a way that the original
cultural characteristics are replaced by the references, values and forms of behaviour of
the host society, must on no account be forced or induced and can only be the result of an
entirely free choice.
This Declaration is based on the principle that the rights of all language communities are
equal and independent of the legal or political status of their languages as official,
regional or minority languages. Terms such as regional or minority languages are not used
in this Declaration because, though in certain cases the recognition of regional or
minority languages can facilitate the exercise of certain rights, these and other
modifiers are frequently used to restrict the rights of language communities.
This Declaration considers that a language cannot be considered proper to a territory
merely on the grounds that it is the official language of the state or has been
traditionally used within the territory for administrative purposes or for certain
1. All languages are the expression of a collective identity and of a distinct way of
perceiving and describing reality and must therefore be able to enjoy the conditions
required for their development in all functions.
2. All languages are collectively constituted and are made available within a community
for individual use as tools of cohesion, identification, communication and creative
1. All language communities have the right to organize and manage their own resources so
as to ensure the use of their language in all functions within society.
2. All language communities are entitled to have at their disposal whatever means are
necessary to ensure the transmission and continuity of their language.
All language communities have the right to codify, standardize, preserve, develop and
promote their linguistic system, without induced or forced interference.
1. All language communities have equal rights.
2. This Declaration considers discrimination against language communities to be
inadmissible, whether it be based on their degree of political sovereignty, their
situation defined in social, economic or other terms, the extent to which their languages
have been codified, updated or modernized, or on any other criterion.
3. All necessary steps must be taken in order to implement this principle of equality and
to render it effective.
All language communities are entitled to have at their disposal whatever means of
translation into and from other languages are needed to guarantee the exercise of the
rights contained in this Declaration.
1. Everyone has the right to carry out all activities in the public sphere in his/her
language, provided it is the language proper to the territory where s/he resides.
2. Everyone has the right to use his/her language in the personal and family sphere.
1. Everyone has the right to acquire knowledge of the language proper to the territory in
which s/he lives.
2. Everyone has the right to be polyglot and to know and use the language most conducive
to his/her personal development or social mobility, without prejudice to the guarantees
established in this Declaration for the public use of the language proper to the
The provisions of this Declaration cannot be interpreted or used to the detriment of any
norm or practice deriving from the internal or international status of a language which is
more favourable to its use within the territory to which it is proper.
Overall linguistic régime
Public administration and official bodies
1. All language communities are entitled to the official use of their language within
2. All language communities have the right for legal and administrative acts, public and
private documents and records in public registers which are drawn up in the language of
the territory to be valid and effective and no one can allege ignorance of this language.
All members of a language community have the right to interrelate with and receive
attention from the public authorities in their own language. This right also applies to
central, territorial, local and supraterritorial divisions which include the territory to
which the language is proper.
1. All language communities are entitled to have at their disposal and to obtain in their
own language all official documents pertaining to relations which affect the territory to
which the language is proper, whether such documents be in printed, machine-readable or
any other form.
2. Forms and standard administrative documents, whether in printed, machine-readable or
any other form, must be made available and placed at the disposal of the public in all
territorial languages by the public authorities through the services which cover the
territories to which each language is proper.
1. All language communities have the right for laws and other legal provisions which
concern them to be published in the language proper to the territory.
2. Public authorities who have more than one territorially historic language within their
jurisdiction must publish all laws and other legal provisions of a general nature in each
of these languages, whether or not their speakers understand other languages.
1. Representative Assemblies must have as their official language(s) the language(s)
historically spoken in the territory they represent.
2. This right also applies to the languages of the communities established in
geographically dispersed locations referred to in Article 1, Paragraph 4.
1. Everyone has the right to use the language historically spoken in a territory, both
orally and in writing, in the Courts of Justice located within that territory. The Courts
of Justice must use the language proper to the territory in their internal actions and, if
on account of the legal system in force within the state, the proceedings continue
elsewhere, the use of the original language must be maintained.
2. Everyone has the right, in all cases, to be tried in a language which s/he understands
and can speak and to obtain the services of an interpreter free of charge.
All language communities have the right for records in public registers to be drawn up in
the language proper to the territory.
All language communities have the right for documents authenticated by notaries public or
certified by other authorized public servants to be drawn up in the language proper to the
territory where the notary or other authorized public servant performs his/her functions.
1. Education must help to foster the capacity for linguistic and cultural self-expression
of the language community of the territory where it is provided.
2. Education must help to maintain and develop the language spoken by the language
community of the territory where it is provided.
3. Education must always be at the service of linguistic and cultural diversity and of
harmonious relations between different language communities throughout the world.
4. Within the context of the foregoing principles, everyone has the right to learn any
All language communities have the right to decide to what extent their language is to be
present, as a vehicular language and as an object of study, at all levels of education
within their territory: preschool, primary, secondary, technical and vocational,
university, and adult education.
All language communities are entitled to have at their disposal all the human and material
resources necessary to ensure that their language is present to the extent they desire at
all levels of education within their territory: properly trained teachers, appropriate
teaching methods, text books, finance, buildings and equipment, traditional and innovative
All language communities are entitled to an education which will enable their members to
acquire a full command of their own language, including the different abilities relating
to all the usual spheres of use, as well as the most extensive possible command of any
other language they may wish to know.
All language communities are entitled to an education which will enable their members to
acquire knowledge of any languages related to their own cultural tradition, such as
literary or sacred languages which were formerly habitual languages of the community.
All language communities are entitled to an education which will enable their members to
acquire a thorough knowledge of their cultural heritage (history, geography, literature,
and other manifestations of their own culture), as well as the most extensive possible
knowledge of any other culture they may wish to know.
1. Everyone is entitled to receive an education in the language proper to the territory
where s/he resides.
2. This right does not exclude the right to acquire oral and written knowledge of any
language which may be of use to him/her as an instrument of communication with other
The language and culture of all language communities must be the subject of study and
research at university level.
All language communities have the right to preserve and use their own system of proper
names in all spheres and on all occasions.
1. All language communities have the right to use place names in the language proper to
the territory, both orally and in writing, in the private, public and official spheres.
2. All language communities have the right to establish, preserve and revise autochthonous
place names. Such place names cannot be arbitrarily abolished, distorted or adapted, nor
can they be replaced if changes in the political situation, or changes of any other type,
All language communities have the right to refer to themselves by the name used in their
own language. Any translation into other languages must avoid ambiguous or pejorative
Everyone has the right to the use of his/her own name in his/her own language in all
spheres, as well as the right, only when necessary, to the most accurate possible phonetic
transcription of his/her name in another writing system.
Communications media and new technologies
All language communities have the right to decide the extent to which their language is be
present in the communications media in their territory, whether local and traditional
media, those with a wider scope, or those using more advanced technology, regardless of
the method of dissemination or transmission employed.
All language communities are entitled to have at their disposal all the human and material
resources required in order to ensure the desired degree of presence of their language and
the desired degree of cultural self-expression in the communications media in their
territory: properly trained personnel, finance, buildings and equipment, traditional and
All language communities have the right to receive, through the communications media, a
thorough knowledge of their cultural heritage (history, geography, literature and other
manifestations of their own culture), as well as the greatest possible amount of
information about any other culture their members may wish to know.
The languages and cultures of all language communities must receive equitable and
non-discriminatory treatment in the communications media throughout the world.
The communities described in Article 1, paragraphs 3 and 4, of this Declaration, and the
groups mentioned in paragraph 5 of the same article, are entitled to an equitable
representation of their language in the communications media of the territory where they
are established or where they migrate. This right is to be exercised in harmony with the
rights of the other language groups or communities in the territory.
In the field of information technology, all language communities are entitled to have at
their disposal equipment adapted to their linguistic system and tools and products in
their language, so as to derive full advantage from the potential offered by such
technologies for self-expression, education, communication, publication, translation and
information processing and the dissemination of culture in general.
1. All language communities have the right to use, maintain and foster their language in
all forms of cultural expression.
2. All language communities must be able to exercise this right to the full without any
community's space being subjected to hegemonic occupation by a foreign culture.
All language communities have the right to full development within their own cultural
All language communities are entitled to access to the works produced in their language.
All language communities are entitled to access to intercultural programmes, through the
dissemination of adequate information, and to support for activities such as teaching the
language to foreigners, translation, dubbing, post-synchronization and subtitling.
All language communities have the right for the language proper to the territory to occupy
a pre-eminent position in cultural events and services (libraries, videothèques, cinemas,
theatres, museums, archives, folklore, cultural industries, and all other manifestations
of cultural life).
All language communities have the right to preserve their linguistic and cultural
heritage, including its material manifestations, such as collections of documents, works
of art and architecture, historic buildings and inscriptions in their own language.
The socioeconomic sphere
1. All language communities have the right to establish the use of their language in all
socioeconomic activities within their territory.
2. All members of a language community are entitled to have at their disposal, in their
own language, all the means necessary for the performance of their professional
activities, such as documents and works of reference, instructions, forms, and computer
equipment, tools and products.
3. The use of other languages in this sphere can only be required in so far as it is
justified by the nature of the professional activity involved. In no case can a more
recently arrived language relegate or supersede the use of the language proper to the
1. Within the territory of his/her language community, everyone has the right to use
his/her own language with full legal validity in economic transactions of all types, such
as the sale and purchase of goods and services, banking, insurance, job contracts and
2. No clause in such private acts can exclude or restrict the use of the language proper
to the territory.
3. Within the territory of his/her language community, everyone is entitled to have the
documents required for the above-mentioned operations at his/her disposal in his/her own
language. Such documents include forms, cheques, contracts, invoices, receipts, delivery
notes, order forms, and others.
Within the territory of his/her language community, everyone has the right to use his/her
own language in all types of socioeconomic organizations such as labour and union
organizations, and employers', professional, trade and craft associations.
1. All language communities have the right for their language to occupy a pre-eminent
place in advertising, signs, external signposting, and in the image of the country as a
2. Within the territory of his/her language community, everyone has the right to receive
full oral and written information in his/her own language on the products and services
proposed by commercial establishments, such as instructions for use, labels, lists of
ingredients, advertising, guarantees and others
3. All public indications affecting the safety of persons must be expressed at least in
the language proper to the territory, in conditions which are not inferior to those of any
1. Everyone has the right to use the language proper to the territory in his/her relations
with firms, commercial establishments and private bodies and to be served or receive a
reply in the same language.
2. Everyone has the right, as a client, customer, consumer or user, to receive oral and
written information in the language proper to the territory from establishments open to
Everyone has the right to carry out his/her professional activities in the language proper
to the territory unless the functions inherent to the job require the use of other
languages, as in the case of language teachers, translators or tourist guides.
The public authorities must take all appropriate steps to implement the rights proclaimed
in this Declaration within their respective areas of jurisdiction. More specifically,
international funds must be set up to foster the exercise of Linguistic Rights in
communities which are demostrably lacking in resources. Thus the public authorities must
provide the necessary support so that the languages of the various communities may be
codified, transcribed, taught, and used in the administration.
The public authorities must ensure that the offial bodies, organizations and persons
concerned are informed of the rights and correlative duties arising from this Declaration.
The public authorities must establish, in the light of existing legislation, the sanctions
to be applied in cases of violation of the linguistic rights laid down in this
This Declaration proposes the creation of a Council of Languages within the United Nations
Organization. The General Assembly of the United Nations Organization is to be responsible
for setting up this Council, defining its functions and appointing its members, and for
creating a body in international law to protect language communities in the exercise of
the rights recognized in this Declaration.
This Declaration recommends and promotes the creation of a World Commission on Linguistic
Rights, a non-official, consultative body made up of representatives of non-governmental
organizations and other organizations working in the field of linguistic law.
Barcelona, June 1996