Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, a member of the Multilingualism Expert group of ECSPM, passed on 29 May 2023, leaving behind a great legacy for the global linguistics community. To quote Francis Hult, also linked to the ECSPM, “With her death we lose another luminary in our field. Tove was a prolific author and tireless champion of linguistic rights. She changed the global conversation on rights to language and linguistic equity, with influence on international, national, regional, and local scales in both politics/policy and scholarship”.
A Finnish-Swedish bilingual speaker from birth, Tove carried out research and was politically active globally on issues regarding Linguistic Human Rights (LHRs), multilingual education, the subtractive spread of English, and the relationship between linguistic and cultural diversity. Her work has been translated in more than 50 languages and in 2003 she was the recipient of the UNESCO International Linguapax – an award to honour actions carried out in different fields in favour of the preservation of linguistic diversity, revitalisation of linguistic communities and the promotion of multilingualism.
Always blunt, and truly passionate about her work, she was also a truly caring person with a special sense of humour. In her own words:
“Supporting Linguistic Human Rights (LHRs) takes a lifetime. You may encounter some prejudices. Once I talked to a bunch of young female students at the beginning of a conference – they did not know who they were talking to. When they heard my name, one of them burst out with “But we thought you were dead long ago!” Then, becoming embarrassed, they said: “itʼs because your name has been around for such a long time”.
Another instance: I was printing out the keynote text that I was going to give in Australia. It was long. A young man, waiting for his turn saw my name on the paper. He gave me a long lecture about how much inspired he had been by this Tove Skutnabb-Kangas. In the end I told him it was me. First, he did not believe me. Then he said: “I always thought it was a male – NO woman can write anything as strong as that. And if you are a female, at least you must be BLACK and BIG and STRONG – not a little blond lady.” So, you are listening to a dead big black male…”
The above is a quote from what Tove herself wrote when Bessie Dendrinos asked her to talk about her life so she could include the citation in a ppt used during a lecture delivered in Athens, Greece, in 2021, to honour Tove and her beloved husband, Robert Phillipson. One can access the presentation here (see the Appendix).