Translating to Communicate with Linguistic Minorities: State Obligations under International Law

In: International Journal on Minority and Group Rights
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  • 1 Marie Curie Actions Fellow, KU Leuven, Belgium

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In the on-going debate about language rights, the role of translation remains somewhat of a blind spot. And yet, because there are very few truly monolingual societies in the world, any language policy implies a translation policy. Translation policies will vary from place to place, and they are often the result of ad hoc choices by policy makers at the local level. Even so, by looking at international law, we can find a sort of lowest common denominator for what is to be expected of translation policies. Sources of international law that can have an effect in shaping domestic policies include treaties/conventions and the judicial decisions of international tribunals. In Europe, in particular, a number of regional treaties from the Council of Europe weigh on translation as an instrument to guarantee the rights of minority speakers. The European Union – with its own treaties, regulations and directives – also helps set minimum standards for domestic translation policies. We will see that in Europe translation is usually cast as a means to secure other rights. Unfortunately, international law seems to set a rather low bar for this, with the most explicit protections afforded in the judicial realm but with relatively little elsewhere.

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