GSE Publications

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version

January 1995


Drawing on multi-year ethnographic research in Quechua-speaking communities of highland Peru and in Cambodian and Puerto Rican communities in inner city Philadelphia, this paper explores the degree to which the development of literacy in minority languages does or does not contribute to minority linguistic human rights and to minority language maintenance. The cases of the cyclical immigrant / citizen Puerto Rican population in the US, of the newly arrived Southeast Asian refugee populations in the US, and of a long-oppressed indigenous population in Peru provide three unique and different contexts in which to explore these issues, so central to local and national identities in an increasingly mobile and ethnically jigsawed world. The cases confirm that the relationship between literacy and language and culture maintenance is a complicated one, in which empowerment plays a significant role. They also highlight questions about various counterpoised dimensions of linguistic human rights - tolerance and promotion, individual and communal freedoms, freedom from discrimination and freedom for use, claims-to and claims-against. The paper concludes by suggesting that the promotion of linguistic human rights will have to continually confront difficult ethical choices and that the guiding principles in those choices must be to balance the counterpoints of those dimensions for the mutual protection of all.


Reprinted from Alteridades, Volume 10, 1995, pages 67-78. Publisher URL:



Date Posted: 21 June 2007