In brief

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, linguist who coined term ‘linguicism’ to define linguistic discrimination, dies at 82

Professor denounced violations of linguistic rights as violations of human rights

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas.
Tove Skutnabb-Kangas.
Swedish-speaking Finnish linguist Tove Skutnabb-Kangas has died at 82 in Lund (Sweden) after a life devoted to defending linguistic diversity through research. Skutnabb-Kangas coined the term linguicism to refer to language discrimination, which she linked to racism and other forms of oppression against minorities, and denounced it as “ideological” and “structural”.

Skutnabb-Kangas concluded that violations of linguistic rights were ultimately human rights violations, a situation she denounced in the cases of minority peoples —Kurds in Turkey—, diaspora communities, and sign language speakers.

The professor also emphasised the contribution that linguistic diversity can make to the promotion of peace, through the reduction of social injustices based on language hierarchies and the potential for mediation in conflicts that, according to Skutnabb-Kangas, multilingualism provides. She also linked linguistic diversity maintenance to the maintenance of biological diversity.

Skutnabb-Kangas was a member of the Scientific Council for the Follow-up of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, an initiative of the PEN Club and CIEMEN. In 2003 she was awarded the Linguapax Prize.