Towards an index of linguistic justice

Michele Gazzola, Bengt-Arne Wickström, Mark Fettes

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As a step towards a systematic comparative evaluation of the fairness of different language policies, a rationale is presented for the design of an index of linguistic justice based on public policy analysis. The approach taken is to define a ‘minimum threshold of linguistic justice’ with respect to government language policy in three domains: law and order, public administration, and essential services. A hypothetical situation of pure equality and freedom in the choice of language used by all members of society in communicating with the state is used as a theoretical benchmark to study the distributive effects of policy alternatives. Departures from this standard incur lower scores. Indicators are chosen to assess effective access to three kinds of language rights: toleration (the lack of state interference in private language choices), accommodation (accessibility of public services in different languages), and compensation (symbolic and practical recognition of languages outside the dominant one). In order to take account of the cost-benefit trade-offs involved in providing language-related goods to language groups of varying sizes, a method is adopted for weighting scores with respect to compensation rights so that lack of recognition for larger groups incurs greater penalties, while factoring in the particular characteristics of each language-related good. A trial set of ten indicators illustrates the compromises entailed in balancing theoretical rigour with empirical feasibility.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-270
Number of pages28
JournalPolitics, Philosophy & Economics
Issue number3
Early online date17 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was supported in part by a Vice-President Research (VPR) Bridging Grant from Simon Fraser University (Canada) and by grants from the Esperantic Studies Foundation (USA). This support is gratefully acknowledged.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.


  • Linguistic Justice
  • language policy
  • public policy
  • Indicators
  • public goods
  • Language Rights
  • fairness
  • efficiency
  • linguistic disadvantage
  • social indicators
  • toleration rights
  • accommodation rights
  • index
  • comparative analysis
  • linguistic justice
  • compensation rights
  • public goods and market failure
  • language inequality
  • language rights


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