1. Introduction.

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.

2. Responsibility to those we study.

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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.

3. Responsibility to students.

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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.

4. Responsibility to scholarship.

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  • Linguists are collectively responsible for the reputation and progress of the discipline and should endeavor to maintain a high degree of professionalism in all aspects of their work.
  • Linguists are subject to the standards of conduct found in other disciplines and should practice honesty (e.g., by not plagiarizing or fabricating data).
  • Those conducting field research should do all they can to preserve opportunities for researchers who may follow them in the field.
  • Linguists should make all reasonable efforts to preserve their original documentary materials.
  • Linguists should strive to follow through on promises made in funded grant proposals and should acknowledge the support of sponsors.

5. Responsibility to the public.

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  • Linguists have a responsibility to consider the social and political implications of their research.
  • Linguists should make the results of their research available to the general public, and should endeavor to make the empirical bases and limitations of their research comprehensible to nonprofessionals.
  • Where possible, linguists should give consideration to likely misinterpretations of their research findings, anticipate the damage they may cause, and make all reasonable effort to prevent this.

6. Ethical oversight.

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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.

7. Resources in other fields.

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