The LSA aspires to a world in which the essential nature of language and its central role in human life is well understood. The LSA emphasizes the close relationship between linguistics and human rights, through advocacy, collaborations, education, endorsements, and public engagement. The LSA and its members stay actively involved in voicing their opinions on humanitarian issues, as well as motivating those around them to participate in advocacy. Recent efforts made by the LSA have included:

The LSA in the Science & Human Rights Coalition of the AAAS:

The LSA has worked closely with the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition (read more here), which is active in addressing a range of humanitarian issues affecting scientists and vulnerable populations world-wide. In support of this work, the LSA has:

  • Appointed Michel DeGraff as the LSA Representative to the Coalition, who presented at the January 2018 Coalition meeting on Human Rights and STEM Education. [January 2018]
  • Advocated to the UN for protecting the rights of children in humanitarian situations (pdf) [September 2017]
  • Given input to UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the protection of the rights of the child (pdf) [October 2016].
  • Rallied Linguists to compose guidelines for communicating rights of the accused to non-native speakers of English in Australia, England and Wales, and the USA (pdf) [November 2015] 
  • Participated in focus groups that informed AAAS reports to the UN, and helped define what specific rights are still needed to ensure scientific progress. [November 2013]
  • Hosted a special workshop during its 2011 Annual Meeting, which explored the relationship between Science, Linguistics and Human Rights, and the barriers that still exist. (pdf) [January 2011]

Advocating for Language Rights:

The LSA values worldwide linguistic diversity and is committed to supporting initiatives that promote inclusivity and the scientific study of language. To uphold this value, the LSA:

  • Continues to advocate and support Native American Language Revitalization Legislation in the U.S. Congress 
  • Participates in discussions on language reforms (e.g. Ukraine's 2017 controversial education reform)
  • Offered assistance in serving the linguistic needs of the young Nigerian women freed from captivity by Boko Haram, who are offered counseling services in English at the American University of Nigeria (pdf) [June 2018]
  • Adopted Guidelines Regarding the Use of Language Analysis in Relation to Questions of National Origin in Refugee Cases (pdf) [January 2009]
  • Approved and ratified a statement that enumerated basic linguistic rights. (pdf) [June 1996]

Advocating for Linguists:

The LSA works to advance the human rights of linguists, and ensure that their work with language communities is consistent with human rights principles. The LSA:

On April 18th, 2014, the LSA formally advocated for the release of Uyghur linguist and educator, Abduweli Ayup, after his detainment on August 20th, 2013, and his sentence to 18 months in prison by the Chinese government. Currently, the teaching of the Uyghur language is banned by the Chinese government, and Mr. Ayup's earlier initiatives to establish a Uyghur language pre-school and encourage the spread of Uyghur became a contentious issue for the government, and later precipitated his arrest.

The LSA, committed to advocating for his release, sent a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping asking him to publically explain the circumstances of Abduweli Ayup’s arrest, as well as ensure that his case proceeds in a manner consistent with China’s obligations under international law, in particular internationally recognized standards of due process, fair trial, free expression and freedom of association. On December 12th, 2014, the LSA and several concerned linguistics were pleased to announce that Mr. Ayup was released from prison following an appeal, three months earlier than expected.

In 2018, Mr. Ayup has been in Ankara, Turkey, seeking resettlement through the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The LSA, jointly with the AAAS and the University of Kansas chair of the Department of Linguistics, has supported his case with a letter to UNHCR by his appointment date on June 29, 2018 (pdf).

Online Work:

The LSA has participated in several online forums, blogs, and webinars that have specifically focused on the spread of linguistics and its realtionship to human rights. Some examples of this advocacy include:

  • Hosting a Webinar presenting and discussing the intersection between Language, Linguistics, Science and Human Rights. (Link) [March 2015]
  • Sponsoring a blog focusing on Endangered Languages and their Preservation. [December 2014]

Promoting the spread of human rights, culture, and scientific study.

The LSA has been involved in a variety of humanitarian and political issues, allowing the LSA to support its greater mission of cultural inclusion and diversity. The LSA has:

  • Co-signed and shared an open letter prepared by Scholars At Risk in August, 2021, appealing for aid to Afghanistan's scholars, students, practitioners, civil society leaders, and activists whose lives and livelihoods are at risk (Link) [August 2021]
  • Participated in the 2017 March for Science in Washington D.C. (Link) [April 2017]
  • Co-signed an open letter in Sepetember, 2017 urging the US Congress to make the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program permanent. (pdf) [September 2017]
  • Opposed, alongside the AAAS and 150 other scientific organizations, the recent Executive Order issued by the Trump administration that would bar immigration and travel from selected countries. (pdf) [February 2017]
  • Expressed its support of those working to prevent the construction of a natural gas pipeline adjacent to the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux. (Link) [December 2016]
  • Urged the US ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (pdf) [July 2014]
  • Issued a Statement to the U.S. Department of State urging it to grant scholars' pending visa applications so that they can attend the U.S. conferences, public events, and meetings to which they have been invited. (pdf) [February 2010]
  • Adopted a resolution opposing all discrimination and political sanctions against scholars on the basis of religion or ethnicity. (Link) [July 2003]

LSA at the January 2018 AAAS Human Rights Coalition Meeting:

  • Michel DeGraff represented the LSA by sharing his presentation Against Human Rights Violations in (Haitian) Education & Beyond exploring some of foundations, lessons, and impacts of educating in local languages and its relation to human rights. Hear his presentation at the AAAS Panel on Examples of Human Rights in Stem Education here (Michel DeGraff's presentation starts at 33:00), and follow along with his powerpoint here.

UN Declarations on Human Rights that pertain to Languages/Linguistics:

  • In the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP), the United Nations established the rights of indigenous peoples to use their native languages and preserve oral traditions, to provide education for children in their own languages, and to establish media in their own languages. The DRIP also established the state’s responsibility to protect indigenous language rights. These rights can be found in:
    • Article 13, sections one and two
    • Article 14, sections one and three
    • Article 16, section one 
  • In the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the United Nations established children’s rights involving language. These include the right to an education that respects the language(s) and culture(s) of a child’s family, the right to use one’s own language, and the right to an interpreter in legal proceedings/trials if the child cannot understand or speak the language used. These rights can be found in:
    • Article 29, section 1-c
    • Article 30
    • Article 40, section 2-vi
  • In the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, the United Nations specifically addresses the issues facing those who speak minority languages and establishes rights for these individuals. These rights are focused on ensuring the well-being of minorities and preserving their cultures. The declaration establishes one’s right to speak one’s own language without facing discrimination, and reinforces the state’s responsibility to create an environment in which minority cultures and languages can develop. It also establishes the state’s responsibility to educate their population about the linguistic and cultural diversity that exists in the nation, and to expose those belonging to minorities to different opportunities and lifestyles. These rights can be found in:
    • Article 2, section one
    • Article 4, sections two and four
  • 2019 was declared by Unesco as the international year of indigenous languages. The LSA has organized a series of activities in support of the observance of the international year. 

Promoting the intersection of language, linguistics, and the indigenous communities of North America

In June 2021, unmarked graves of hundreds of First Nations children were found at residential "schools" in Kamloops, British Columbia, and at the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. The LSA Executive Committee issued a statement on Indigenous Community Issues, and the LSA's Natives4Linguistics Special Interest Group issued a statement on and resources regarding Indigenous Boarding and Residential Schools. The LSA stands against the weaponization of culture and language.

Ways to Get Involved 


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