Linguistic diversity poses various challenges to contemporary states. First, growing migratory fluxes imply that societies are increasingly multilingual and render the Millian ideal of linguistically homogeneous democracies more and more utopian. Second, ethno-linguistic minorities continue to demand recognition and accommodation in order to avoid being assimilated by dominant languages and cultures. Quebec in Canada and Wales in the UK are two prominent examples. Third, the growing prominence of English as the global lingua franca creates both opportunities and challenges, by helping communication across linguistic borders but also threatening some national and local languages. In summary, governments increasingly need to balance the need for communication across linguistic barriers and the need to accommodate demands for the preservation of the very linguistic diversity that often renders that communication difficult. Even though there is a well-developed literature in contemporary political theory (e.g. Kymlicka and Patten 2003; Van Parijs 2011) that examines these issues, little if any attention has been paid so far to the implications of linguistic diversity for a specific and key policy area in contemporary democracies, i.e. health policy.

Conversely, there is a well-developed literature, in political theory, which focuses on health and justice, especially on issues of both macroallocation and microallocation of health-related resources, at both national and international levels (e.g. Daniels 1985, 2008; Wolff 2012). Many authors have gradually moved away from a resourcist approach and embraced some version of Nussbaum (2000) and Sen’s (1980, 1992) capability approach, which takes into account those personal, social and environmental conversion factors (Robeyns 2005) that may often prevent the effective enjoyment of those opportunities that primary goods and resources are meant to guarantee. Few if any authors, however, have focused on a key conversion factor which may prevent the effective enjoyment of key capabilities such as ‘bodily health’ and ‘bodily integrity’, i.e. linguistic diversity.

This one-day workshop aims to bridge the gap between these two bodies of literature, and to critically assess the relationship between linguistic diversity and health policy. More specifically, it aims to understand patient-practitioner communication and its impact on the delivery of health care and social services. In particular, it aims to investigate communication between patients and health professionals, where the health professional has to use a second language and where this poses a potential language barrier that may compromise equitable access to health care. It further seeks to investigate the ethics and policy implications of language barriers in equitable healthcare provision.


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