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.