Open Access

Linguistic Justice for which Demos? The Democratic Legitimacy of Language Regime Choices

   | Oct 26, 2016


In the European Union language regime debate, theorists of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism have framed their arguments in reference to different theories of justice and democracy. Philippe Van Parijs advocates the diffusion of a lingua franca, namely English, as means of changing the scale of the justificatory community to the European level and allowing the creation of a transnational demos. Paradoxically, one key dimension of democracy has hardly been addressed in this discussion: the question of the democratic legitimacy of language regime choices and citizens’ preferences on the different language regime scenarios. Addressing the question of the congruence of language policy choices operated by national and European elites and ordinary citizens’ preferences, this paper argues first that the dimension of democratic legitimacy is crucial and needs to be taken into account in discussions around linguistic justice. Criticizing the assumption of a direct correspondence between individuals’ language learning choices and citizens’ language regime preferences made by different authors, the analysis shows the ambivalence of citizens’ preferences measured by survey data. The article secondly raises the question of the boundaries of the political community at which the expression of citizens’ preferences should be measured and demonstrates that the outcome and the fairness of territorial linguistic regimes may vary significantly according to the level at which this democratic legitimacy is taken into account.