Language and Difference in a Democracy - Universal Engagement in Lingusitically Diverse Democracies

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Using the United States political system as a case study, and drawing parallels from similar democracies in South Africa, Israel, Ireland, Canada, and Great Britain, the article will develop a normative theory in support of a broad need for a democratic system to accomodate and embrace linguistic diversity. It will offer a detailed critique of existing accommodationist policies in the above countries and set forth a proposal for a flexible legal and political infrastructure that can address the existing inadequacies identified in the United States and elsewhere.

The proposed model for improving accommodation will include the affirmative provision of assistance from certified translators, increased involvement of language minority community groups and organizations in determining the extent of coverage under federal law, and an increased role for courts in regulating and enforcing accomodations – is an attempt to develop a blueprint for democratic accomodation that is tailored to serve all voters who require language assistance in order to act as equal participants in a democracy. It will also address issues of anti-immigrant backlash and voter suppresion that such an accomodationist policy risks enflaming.


Keywords: Language, Democracy, Democratic Participation, Diversity, Politics, Law
Stream: Language, Linguistics
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Prof. Jocelyn Friedrichs Benson

Assistant Professor of Law, Law School, Wayne State University Law School
Detroit, MI, USA

Professor Jocelyn Benson joined the faculty at Wayne Law in 2005, after serving as a law clerk to Judge Damon J. Keith on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. She previously worked for the Democratic National Committee as the National Field Director for Election Protection, and is currently serving as a member of the American Bar Association’s Committee on Election Law. She graduated from Wellesley College, where she founded the now-annual Women American Political Activism conference and was the first student to be elected to serve in the governing body for the town of Wellesley, the Town Meeting. She subsequently earned her Masters in Sociology as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University, conducting research into the sociological implications of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. She received her J.D from Harvard University Law School, where she was a general editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. During her time at Harvard Law, Professor Benson also worked as the Voting Rights Policy Coordinator for the Harvard Civil Rights Project. Professor Benson has also worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and as an investigative journalist for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Ref: H08P0165