Realising linguistic justice: Resources versus capabilities

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This paper focuses on a particular understanding of linguistic justice, one described as the ‘fair background conditions position’. This position has clear liberal-egalitarian roots, and its main feature is the contention that the basic requirement of justice with regard to language is the establishment of certain fair background conditions. The aim of the paper is to further the discussion regarding the implications of this understanding of linguistic justice. It will be argued that current accounts of how we realise fair linguistic conditions are lacking, due to their resource-based nature, which means that they tend to focus solely on people’s holdings of basic linguistic resources, in the form of rights, goods and services. While these resources are important, they should be viewed as only part of the story. If our goal is the establishment of conditions that provide people with truly fair opportunities to use and sustain their respective languages, then other factors, in particular the constraining influence of implicit social norms, also need to be considered, a matter that can be better grasped by adopting a capability-based, as opposed to a resource-based approach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)595-607
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development
Issue number38
Early online date16 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2017


  • linguistic diversity
  • linguistic justice
  • language rights
  • fair background conditions
  • resources
  • capabilities


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