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The Australian National University

Confusion of Tongues: Constitutional Recognition of Languages and Language Rights in Australia

Alexander Reilly (2013) 41 (2)

This article considers the YouMeUnity Report proposal for the inclusion of new language provisions in the Australian Constitution as part of a package of reforms for the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The article outlines the important symbolic and substantive effects of recognising language rights in the Constitution. The article explains how the recognition of a national language and the recognition of minority languages are conceptually distinct — promoting a national language is aimed at promoting national unity and enhancing the political and economic participation of individuals in the state, whereas protecting minority languages is aimed at recognising linguistic diversity, enriching the cultural life of the State, maintaining connections with other nations, and recognising language choice as a basic human right. The article argues that there is a strong case for minority language recognition, and in particular, the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, in the Australian Constitution, but warns against the recognition of English as the national language.

Vol 41, Issue 2, 2013

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