Reading guide

The Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights is a long and complex document. It could hardly be otherwise in view of the complexity of the topic itself and the efforts made to include, as democratically as possible, the opinions of numerous persons and organizations from all over the world, .

The following summary is an attempt to provide answers to a few basic questions such as:

  • How was it drafted?
  • Who took part in the drafting process?
  • How representative is it?
  • What are the basic premises?
  • What purpose will it serve?
  • Does it propose viable solutions that can be applied to any situation?

What will become of it from now on?

The fruit of a long process of reflection

The Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights is the fruit of a long process of reflection which began in September 1994 when the promoting bodies (the International PEN Club's Translations and Linguistic Rights Committee and the Escarré International Centre for Ethnic Minorities and Nations) entrusted a committee of specialists from a variety of backgrounds and fields of activity with the tast of drafting it. Some fifty experts from many different countries have taken part in the preparation of the twelve successive versions.

A worldwide virtual debate

Advantage has been taken of the new communications technologies to hold a debate on the contents of the Declaration with persons and organizations from all five continents without costly and unnecessary travelling expenses. It has thus been possible to incorporate into the final text proposals from thirty-two PEN Centres and sixty-four organizations from around the world which are engaged in tasks ranging from legal, linguistic or sociological research to the defense of the rights of peoples.

An Assembly of Participants with a wide degree of representativity

Two hundred and twenty persons from almost ninety different states belonging to all five continents have confirmed their attendance at the Conference. Delegates will include representatives of some one hundred NGOs and International PEN Club Centres. Any possible European or Western bias has been successfully averted by the representative nature of the Assembly, the ease of communication achieved through the virtual debate, and the very numerous endorsements received from other continents.

An effort to achieve openness and balance

Thanks to the broad range of contributions, the multiplicity of sociolinguistic contexts they reflect, and the efforts made to strike a balance between different viewpoints, the Declaration does not identify with any particular school of thought but aspires to be open to all currents and applicable to any situation.

The equality of all languages over and above arbitrary classifications

The definition of equitable linguistic rights cannot be dependent on the political or administrative status of languages or on irrelevant or insufficiently objective criteria such as their level of codification or number of speakers. For this reason the Declaration proclaims the equality of linguistic rights, without extraneous distinctions such as official / non-official, national / regional / local, minority / majority, or modern / archaic.

The twofold nature of linguistic rights: collective and individual

The Declaration considers the collective and individual dimensions of linguistic rights to be inseparable and interdependent because languages are constituted within a community and it is also within the community that persons make individual use of them. Thus the exercise of individual linguistic rights can only be made effective if equal respect is granted to the collective rights of all language communities and groups.

A basis for harmonious social relations

Achieving a successful balance between the linguistic rights of communities, groups and persons who share the same space is vital to harmonious social relations but it is also a matter of extraordinary complexity. Consequently the Declaration focuses on the rights of language communities which are historically established in their own territory with a view to defining a gradation, applicable to each case, of the rights of language groups with different degrees of historicity and self-identification and those of individuals living outside their community of origin.

A set of ambitious proposals which solidarity will make viable

Though the availability of resources may condition the exercise of linguistic rights, it would be unjust to deny the validity of such rights on grounds of insufficient means. It should be recalled that the implementation of such universally acknowledged rights as the right to life, health, work or education also requires considerable financing. The Declaration seeks to foster a worldwide commitment to solidarity in the field of language rights so as to rectify shortcomings and make viable the rights of the most underprivileged.

The search for appropriate solutions based on democratic consensus

The wide range of factors which influence the situation of languages, the difficulty of achieving convergence between the interests of communities, groups and individuals, and the necessary interplay between linguistic and other fundamental rights, make it impossible to lay down a single set of measures that can be applied everywhere. For this reason the Declaration, while stressing the inescapable responsibility of the public authorities, focuses on rights and not on obligations or prohibitions, and calls for solutions appropriate to each case to be sought on the basis of democratic consensus.

The opening of a new phase

The proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights on 6 June 1996 marks the end of one process and the start of another. On that date a new phase gets underway which is to give rise to an International Convention of the United Nations. This, precisely, is the purpose of the Conference: to reinforce the moral weight of the Declaration through expressions of support, to gather new ideas and contributions, and to combine efforts in order to attain the objective we all wish for: a just and lasting linguistic peace based on awareness and recognition of language rights.


From the 6th to the 8th of June 1996, was held in Barcelona the World Conference of Linguistic Rights with the assistance of 66 NGO's, 41 PEN Centres and 41 experts in linguistic legislations from all the world. The convocation of this World Conference was an iniciative of the Committee for translation and linguistic rights (International PEN) and the CIEMEN (International Escarré Centre for the Ethnical Minorities and the Nations), with the moral and technical support of the UNESCO.
The Assembly of Participants approuved the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights by acclamation in the ceremony held the 6th of June at the Paranimph of the University of Barcelona. During the act, the Delegates of the NGO's, PEN Centres and experts signed the document, which was offered, enclosed with the text, to the Representative of the General Director of the UNESCO. Begin thus a new stage for the Universal Declaration on Linguistic Rights which will make it a Convention of the United Nations.


*You can get the definitive version of the
Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights in differents formats and in the four official languages of the World Conference of Linguistic Rights..


*You can consult the
Conslusions of the World Conference of Linguistic Rights..


*In the
Signers ’s page you can find all the NGO’s, PEN Centres and experts that signed the Declaration in Barcelona the 6th of June 1996..


*After the 6th of June there are many NGO’s, institutions and persons that have given their support to the Declaration. You can give also your support (personally or as an entity) and consult all the agreements.


*The Assembly of Participants of the World Conference of Linguistic Rights has created a
Follow-up Commitee with the pourpose to follow-up the text into the UNESCO and to obtain support from the institutions and entities of all over the world, a support that reinforce the moral weight of the Declaration and help to divulge its ideas.


*The Follow-up Committee has created a
Scientific Council by experts in linguistic legislations from all the world. Its purpose is to get new ideas and contributions in the way to complete and make better the contents of the Declaration and be on the service of the UNESCO each time that this institution asks for our support.


*If you are interested in collaborate with us, you can:
.help to divulge the Declaration in your area;
.get the support of the entities, institutions and well-known persons who you could accede.
.set contact with the Follow-up Committee to concrete other actions.

If you desire further information or have any query, please contact us to the following address:


Bureau of the Follow-up Committee
c/ Rocafort, 242 bis, 2n
08029 Barcelona
Tel. 00 34 93 444 38 06
Fax 00 34 93 444 38 09

e-Mail:
dudl@linguistic-declaration.org