Abstract

How should constitutional design respond to competing claims for official language status in countries where there is more than one language, whose speakers are concentrated in a specific territory, and hence, where more than one language is a plausible candidate for use in public services, public education, legislatures, the courts, and public administration? This is one of the most pervasive and pressing constitutional problems of modern political life. It has been largely ignored in the literatures on comparative constitutional law and constitutional design. This article therefore turns to constitutional practice, and focuses on South Asia, where linguistic nationalism has been one of the principal forces shaping constitutional developments for over sixty years. South Asia has been a constitutional laboratory on questions of linguistic nationalism, and vividly illustrates both that it is possible to manage linguistic nationalism through constitutional design, and conversely, that the cost of getting official-language policy wrong can be very high.

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