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Expert in the spotlight in May 2012, Tove Skutnabb-Kangas

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Featured Expert / Area of focus

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas is retired but still very busy as author of books and articles, and giving keynotes and interviews all over the world. Her specialisations are: Linguistic human rights, minority education, language and power, links between biodiversity and linguistic diversity, multilingualism, language policy, global (subtractive) spread of English, integration, ethnicity, racisms (incl. linguicism, linguistically argued racism) and gender issues. She has an impressive list of publications, in 47 languages - see her website

Face to face with Tove Skutnabb-Kangas

What is your background in the field of regional and minority languages/education/ multilingualism? 
I am bilingual from birth, in Finnish and Finland Swedish, and have always seen that as very positive. My first PhD was about the school achievement of bilingual Swedish-mother-tongue 14-15-year old boys training to become car mechanics, in two Swedish-medium classes in a bilingual vocational school in Finland. They did well. My advanced doctorate was mainly about Finnish immigrant minority children in Sweden where the school completely failed those who were in Swedish-medium subtractive education, whereas those in mainly Finnish-medium classes did well. The importance of the medium of education for identity and life chances has led me to work with mother-tongue-based multilingual education, MLE, Linguistic Human Rights, and, especially, the power relations between speakers of dominant and dominated/oppressed languages (including Deaf Sign language users).

What do you think is the major challenge in your field of work?

We know approximately how education should be organised to support Indigenous/tribal, minority and minoritised (ITM) children in becoming high-level bi- or multilingual, with a chance of achieving in school. Still, in most of the world this is not done; most education may participate in committing linguistic and cultural genocide, according to UN Definitions; likewise, it may be a crime against humanity (Skutnabb-Kangas and Dunbar 2010). Both their right to education and their linguistic and cultural human rights are violated. Power politics in neoliberal corporate globalisation, together with growthism, overrule human rights. Some researchers are also, through their intellectual games, supporting ideologies which harm ITMs. If present estimates about the number of languages disappearing materialise, also much of the knowledge about how to maintain biodiversity and live sustainably disappears. 

What is one of the hottest new projects / items you are working on?
I am just finishing Revitalise Indigenous languages! How to recreate a lost working-age generation, a book about the spectacular revitalisation of Aanaar/Inari Saami language in northernmost Finland, together with Marja-Liisa Olthuis (the only Aanaar Saami in the world with a PhD) and Suvi Kivelä (journalist, now director of the Aanaar Saami Archives, one of the students in the project we describe). It recreated the missing working-age generation whose grand/parents were forcibly assimilated; they could not transfer the language to the next generations. After an intensive one-year course (with full pay) for 17 people, there are now some school and kindergarten teachers, a priest, a journalist, etc. fully qualified professionals, who speak Aanaar Saami, many also to their own children in language nests and Aanaar-medium school. There are around 350 Aanaar Saami speakers in the world.

Are there any important references such as articles, links, etc. you would like to mention?
See my home page for references to my work (and follow the link to Robert Phillipson – my husband – for linguistic imperialism). See my Big Bibliography (over 6,000 entries) and search for 2011 and 2012 for some recent references. Visit for information on the relationship between biodiversity and linguistic and cultural diversity. See the website of the National Multilingual Education Resource Consortium at the University of Delhi, for some of the most exciting research and action on MLE for Indigenous/tribal peoples. See also Indigenous People’s Center for Documentations, Research and InformationGáldu, Resource Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, for information. UNESCO has several good sites for endangered languages. Also Google “Linguistic Human Rights”.

Do you have any questions on these topics?

Ask Tove

Featured topic?
Our focus this month lies on Endangered languages