5. Responsibility to the public.

  • 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.
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7 Responses to 5. Responsibility to the public.

  1. Kyle Gorman says:

    Maybe this is the wrong section, but I think there should be something more specific here about the role of American linguists in national defense, etc. This is the largest role linguists play in public life (though another one would be in directing policy, which should also be touched upon).

    What I’d personally favor establishing is the notion that the role of linguists in defense is to facilitate communication. We should also clarify the ethical way to resolve any conflict between the linguist-advocate and the public on matters of public policy, asserting the right of the linguist to advocate on public matters and the right of the public to demand scientific accuracy.

  2. Anon Ymous says:

    Why do we have a responsibility to the public? Our only responsibility is to the truth. Any assertion that we “owe” something to the general public and that we must be careful not to be misinterpreted is rather a dangerous and undeserved burden, don’t you think?

  3. Sonja Lanehart says:

    I agree that we have a responsibility to the community in which we collect data and that it is to our benefit and society’s to make our relevant findings available to the public in a non-technical way. However, I am also aware that many scholars do not received tenure and promotion based on presenting their work in a non-technical but, more importantly, that there aren’t good outlets for doing so. Is it possible that LSA could provide a publication that fills this gap in the way that the American Educational Research Association has done so for education, especially for providing information to the government in the effort to effect education policy?

  4. Mike Cahill says:

    I think this would be the section to put a comment about linguistics research affecting language policy of national governments. Part of advocacy on the part of minority languages is trying to make sure they have a seat at the table, so to speak. This can affect official languages of education, what is allowed to be broadcast on radio, etc. I’m thinking particularly of African situations that I’m better acquainted with, but I’m sure it’s applicable elsewhere.
    A suggested addition might be something of the nature of “Since governmental language policies should be informed by accurate information, linguistic researchers should make relevant information available to appropriate governmental bodies.”

  5. anonymous says:

    I think this section should be omitted altogether:

    # most of us try to make our research available to the public anyway (by publishing it);
    # most research will not be understandable to non-professionals anyway: (i) how would a Minimalist Program, an OT analysis, or the results of a Latent Semantic Analysis ever be comprehensible to a non-professional; (ii) why would we want that anyway – it’s not like I understand any one research result in physics, chemistry, biology, maths, …
    # the guideline that “linguists should give consideration to likely misinterpretations of their research findings …” is a trviality that is true of science in general, one might just as well write “try to avoid misinterpretation or miscommunication”

    Part of the above problems appear to me to result from the fact that this statement is overly narrow anyway, focusing exclusively, as it seems to me, on ‘fieldworky’ kinds of research with consultants/speakers/informants (I don’t know what the right pc term is these days) anyway and disregarding experimental research in which it is often prudent or indispensible to not tell subjects what the study is about.

  6. Bjorn Jernudd says:

    Both the first and last paragraphs place an unreasonable burden on the linguist — unless of course one reads these paragraphs as expressing a commonsense and therefore almost vacuous recommendation not to remain naive about the environment in which one is working (and equivalent).
    The problem for me is the phrase “have a responsibility”. One has a responsibility to someone, and that someone has an identity with its own responsibilities attached. To leave this statement vague and relationship-free invites the possibility of persecution/accusation of a linguist who did not manage to “consider the social and political implications” in a manner acceptable to ANY others, and who did not manage to “give consideration to likely misinterpretations”, etc. Therefore, specify so as to provide closure of responsibility or delete. Since the last paragraph is redundant anyway, in view of the first, it should be deleted.

  7. Boggled says:

    Regarding the first bullet, it seems that the work of certain type of linguists (e.g., sociolinguists, anthropological linguistcs) is more likely to have direct social and political implication than that of others. I feel that the first bullet is not useful as it is worded. What does “to consider” mean? Think about? Ponder? Write about? Address in a footnote? Analyze? Discuss at conferences?

    Regarding the second bullet, I am glad to see this idea included, but again I have questions. Who is the general public? Think about this, many researchers write in English about languages they don’t even speak; the research they complete never becomes available to the communities of speakers whose language they describe. This is an issue that native speakers of Mayan languages who are linguists have drawn attention to. Perhaps it should be addressed here.
    Can we assume that books that cost $100 plus, texts not purchased by public libraries, are available to the “general public”?

    Unlike some of the other posters I think that this document is a very important one.

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