July 28, 2008
Linguists work in a variety of settings and approach the study of language from multiple disciplinary perspectives. Each research setting presents a specific set of potential ethical dilemmas. It is the responsibility of linguists individually and collectively to anticipate ethical dilemmas and to avoid harm to those with whom they work.
The Linguistic Society of America does not adjudicate claims of unethical behavior. This statement is meant to provide linguists with a framework for making ethical choices and to foster broader discussion of ethics in the discipline.
July 28, 2008
Linguists have a responsibility to protect and respect their research participants:
- The aims of an investigation should be communicated as clearly as possible to language consultants.
- Linguists should determine in advance whether a speaker wishes to remain anonymous or to receive recognition and should comply with those wishes.
- Linguists should obtain informed consent in advance from those providing data, whether orally or in writing.
- Linguists should be careful not to coerce anyone to participate in their research and should respect the wishes of research participants to withdraw from a study at any time.
- Linguists should consider possible repercussions of a study and should discuss these fully with participants and groups likely to be affected.
- Fair compensation should be given for any assistance.
Appropriate frameworks for interaction with outside researchers vary depending on a community’s particular culture and history. Some communities regard language, oral literature, and other forms of cultural knowledge as valuable intellectual property that should be respected by outsiders. Other communities are eager to share such knowledge in the context of a long-term relationship of reciprocity and exchange. In general linguists should strive to determine what will be constructive for all involved in a research encounter, given the community’s cultural values.
In many communities responsibility for linguistic and cultural knowledge is viewed as corporate, so that individual community members are not in a position to consent to share materials with outsiders. In such cases, the researcher is responsible to the community as well as to individual speakers:
The aims of an investigation should be communicated as clearly as possible to the community. Ideally, the community will be involved at an early stage in planning projects and in selecting speakers.
Linguists should determine in advance what types of information may be considered private and should comply with community wishes regarding access, archiving, and distribution of results.
Because language is shared knowledge, it may be appropriate to compensate the community for assistance by making direct payment, helping to facilitate ongoing training, seeking financial support for community efforts in language development, or other means.
July 28, 2008
Linguists should minimize harm to students and should model and promote ethical behavior.
Linguists should acknowledge the help of students in research and should compensate students fairly for their assistance.
Sex, marital status, race, ethnic background, social class, political beliefs, disability, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, age, and other such distinctions are irrelevant to academic and scholarly achievement. Linguists and programs should not discriminate based on them.
Sexual liaisons between instructors and students may lead to exploitation and conflicts of interest. Instructors and students should avoid such involvement when an instructor is in any way responsible for a student’s success.
Linguists should ensure that their students receive instruction in the ethical practices appropriate for their field.
July 28, 2008
Attending to pertinent rules, regulations, and procedures (international, national, local, community, institutional, etc.) is an important aspect of planning and carrying out research in line with the guiding ethical principles of beneficence, justice, and respect for persons.
Linguistic research may be subject to the regulations on work with human subjects. In addition, linguists may be subject to institutional and/or local policies that go above and beyond these regulations. In planning their research linguists have an obligation to inform themselves about these regulations and policies.
July 28, 2008
Research on language often crosses into other fields of expertise. In such circumstances, linguists are urged to consider the statements on ethics issued by the relevant professional and political bodies. For example:
American Anthropological Association. 1998. Code of Ethics of the American Anthropological Association. http://www.aaanet.org/committees/ethics/ethcode.htm
American Folklore Society. 1988. Statement of Ethics for the American Folklore Society. http://www.afsnet.org/aboutAFS/ethics.cfm
American Psychological Association. 2002. Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. American Psychologist. http://www.apa.org/ethics/homepage.html
Applied Linguistics Association of Australia. 1998. Statement of Good Practice. http://www.latrobe.edu.au/alaa/goodprac.htm
The Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research Report of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. 1979. http://ohsr.od.nih.gov/guidelines/belmont.html
British Association of Applied Linguistics. 1994. Recommendations on Good Practice in Applied Linguistics. http://www.baal.org.uk/about_goodpractice_full.pdf
National Academy of Sciences. 1995. On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research. 2nd edition. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press (2121 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20418). http://www.nap.edu/books/0309051967/html/
United Nations. 1993-2006. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf
July 27, 2008
In 2006 the Executive Committee of the Linguistic Society of America established an ad hoc Ethics Committee with two subcommittees. Subcommittee A was charged with drafting new guidelines for the responsible conduct of linguistic research. Members of this subcommittee were Lise Dobrin, Jane Hill, Keith Johnson, Jack Martin, and Sara Trechter. Subcommittee B was asked to develop materials to help linguists deal with Institutional Review Boards. Members of that subcommittee included Claire Bowern, Penny Eckert, Ted Gibson, Philip Rubin, and Susan Steele. Monica Macaulay served as the committee’s representative to the Executive Committee and as the point of contact between the subcommittees.
This ethics statement was drafted in early 2007. It was influenced in part by the 1988 Statement of Ethics for the American Folklore Society and by the 1998 Code of Ethics of the American Anthropological Association.