Today – 21 February 2013 – is the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) International Mother Language Day. The day was established in February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity to foster mutual understanding, multilingualism, and multiculturalism. The Resolution 61/266 by the UN General Assembly on Multilingualism called on Member States “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”.
Sign languages form the mother tongues of Deaf people all across Europe and the world. They are natural languages that have the same linguistic properties as spoken languages and have evolved over years in various different Deaf Communities. Despite widespread opinions there is not one single universal sign language in the world or even in Europe. Just as spoken languages, sign languages vary greatly between countries and ethnic groups. Some countries have more than one sign language or dialect. Countries that have the same spoken language do not necessarily have the same signed language (see for example Germany and Austria).
EUD believes that the right to sign language is a basic Human Right. Access to sign language is essential for the fulfilment of other human rights, such as the right to equal education, information, and political participation. In view of the European Year of Citizens 2013 EUD wants to urge the European Institutions to enhance its access in the run-up to the European elections in 2014.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in its Article 41(4) on the right to good administration gives every person the right to ‘write to the institutions of the Union in one of the languages of the Treaties and must have an answer in the same language’. According to Article 55(1) TEU the languages of the Treaties are: Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, and Swedish. These are the official languages of the European Union, although the working languages (to reduce translation work) are English, French, and to a certain extent also German.
Considering that for most Deaf sign language users the written medium constitutes a significant barrier and given the non-discrimination clause of the Charter (Article 21) with regards to both language and disability (among others) and the fact that the EU has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which requires State Parties to guarantee political rights (Article 29) Deaf people are in a strong position to argue for full and equal access to the EU institutions and its election procedures in sign language.
Full political participation must include the whole election cycle, including the preparation that is necessary if someone wants to stand for elections themselves. Information about political parties, access to events organised by political parties and institutions, access to information on the web and also in person must be provided in sign language. EUD plays a large role in informing Deaf citizens about their rights as EU citizens but at the same time pushes for further measures also on behalf of the European Union. Only in their mother tongues can citizens of all European nations fully understand the benefits and workings of a truly united Europe.
You can download the text in PDF version here.
Further Links & Information:
Official Website of the International Day:
EUD Mother Language Day 2012:
Consolidated Treaties of the European Union (e-book & PDF versions):
Resolution 61/266 by the UN General Assembly on Multilingualism:
http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/61/266 European Year of Citizens 2013:
EUD Article on EY2013:
UNCRPD (full text PDF):
Wheatley, M. & Pabsch, A. (2012). Sign Language Legislation in the European Union – Edition II. Brussels: EUD.