Do "Language Rights" Serve Indigenous Interests? Some Hopi and Other Queries

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Abstract

While valuable, the discourse of language rights neglects language use in cultural, social, and historical contexts. This article examines some implications of that neglect, especially vis-a-vis small-scale, indigenous, "oral" societies. Drawing principally on Hopi examples, I argue that language rights discourse rests on a reflexivization of language and culture enhanced by globalism. Now reified, language becomes an allegory of ethnic identity. Preexisting sociolinguistic sensibilities get repositioned, for example, in Native Americancommunities in which language has hitherto been deployed as a technique of privacy and sovereignty, language rights ideology islogocentric and presumes a democratic, secular space of language use, conflicting with both privacy and performativity in Native linguisticvalues. And some linguistic usage reinforces social inequality, both transnationally and group-internally: Here, language rights contradict other human rights. Language rights discourse also requires anthropology to rethink its recent antipathy to the culture concept and to treat language and culture objectively. [Keywords: language rights, sociolinguistic values, sovereignty, logocentrism, globalism]

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