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Notre Dame Law Review

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In September 2010, an eye-catching article appeared on the front page of the New York Times “Arts” section. The headline read, “Cultures United to Honor Separatism.” Basque and Catalan nationalists, Sinn Fein leaders, and others were convening on the island of Corsica, not to chart out war strategies, as might have been expected, but rather to discuss cultural politics. As time would tell, pitched battles over sovereignty and independence seemed to be yielding to equally passionate calls for linguistic and cultural recognition. Facing the pressure of English as the global lingua franca, historically militant groups were placing their political weight on maintaining, and in some cases, reviving their distinct languages and cultures.

To most readers, the article was an interesting novelty especially for a section devoted to the arts. On the surface, it presented concerns politically and geographically remote from those weighing on the minds of most New Yorkers, and most Americans. Yet for linguistic minorities and for those attuned to their lives, it resonated deeply. Most strikingly, a nationalist party leader underscored culture and language to be “the essence” of Corsican identity. While his heartfelt words evoked a truth often overlooked in public debates over European regional languages, they also rang true for immigrant languages on both sides of the Atlantic.

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