The Charter of the French language in the Baltic States

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This is an unofficial English translation of "La Charte de la langue française et les lois linguistiques dans les Pays baltes", an article found in a special issue of the OQLF's Revue d'aménagement linguistique published for the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Québec's Charter of the French language in 2002.

Already before the disintegration of the USSR, society and local authorities had taken measures to put an end to the restrictions on the languages other than Russian and to prevent Russianization and language shifts. Almost all the republics adopted some articles in their Constitution and linguistic laws. The Baltic States were pioneers in this respect: Estonia (January 18, 1989), Lithuania (January 25, 1989) and Latvia (May 5, 1989). The linguistic laws were among the first to be adopted during the period of the perestroika (1987-1989) along with the legalization of the flags and national anthems (Rannut, 1994; Veisbergs, 1998).

The goal of our linguistic policy was similar to that of Quebec: to prevent language shifts and to modify the hierarchy of languages in the public life. The principal sectors of intervention were the language used in the government agencies and and the administration, in meetings and office spaces in particular, in corporate names, information and education. The principle of territorial linguistic rights was instituted.

The instability of the political situation between 1989 and 1991 blocked the application of the linguistic laws of 1989. It is only after the restoration of independence in August 1991 that the country could resolutely take care of the issues related to the status and the role of Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian. Nevertheless, the relatively slow and peaceful three years transition played a very important part in making it possible for society to adapt itself psychologically to envisaged transformation in the hierarchy of languages.


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