Ethics in Linguistics

9 - 13 May 2022

Venue: Lorentz Center@Snellius

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Discussions about ethics in all scientific fields have been energized recently by calls for open science, accountability, and data replicability, the reporting requirements of academic journals and funding bodies, as well as the need to foster public trust in scientific research. These debates are generally more advanced in some fields than others, and in some world regions compared to others.

Linguistics — a field reliant on human participants par excellence — sits rather uncomfortably in these debates somewhere between the humanities, social sciences, and other, more experimental fields. In practice, this means that there can be enormous variability in ethics awareness and practices among linguists working in different traditions (formal linguistics, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, language documentation, etc.) and world regions. At the same time, linguists needing to provide ethical assurances routinely cite documentation from fields such as psychology, anthropology, or even medicine to meet this requirement. This fragmented picture can result in arbitrariness in ethics-related decisions by various stakeholders and can quickly translate into a disadvantage when it comes to equitable access to the production and dissemination of knowledge.

Because ethical issues arise at every step of the research cycle, encompassing a series of interconnected stages from design to the collection, analysis, (co-)authoring, review, citation, dissemination and curation of language data, the few national or academic society ethics codes available specifically to linguistics researchers only partially remedy this situation. The lack of awareness among linguists working in different disciplinary and national academic traditions makes it difficult to formulate a set of recommendations embodying the ethics principles that should guide the field. The result is that no single code exists that addresses all of the linguistics-specific issues which arise during the various stages of the research cycle. This in turn makes it difficult to raise awareness about these issues and provide ethics-related training to future generations of linguists.

Recognizing that the evolution toward shared ethical standards goes through mutual awareness of the constraints faced and the practices adopted by linguists of all stripes, this workshop aims to create an intellectual space where linguists trained in different disciplinary and national academic traditions can share their experiences in order to (i) raise awareness about the ethical challenges inherent in every stage of the research cycle and (ii) allow answers to these challenges to emerge organically from discussion within the field.

Given their different areas of specialization and language expertise, the selected participants would not normally meet in established conference venues, which are organized along disciplinary and/or national lines. This workshop, therefore, represents a unique opportunity to cross-fertilize ethics knowledge and ethics practices among linguistics researchers. By taking this pro-active stance, we also aim to move linguistics away from the reactive position in which it often finds itself vis-à-vis ethics requirements imposed externally.

Finally, we seek to initiate a robust dialogue between scholars in linguistics and neighbouring fields (anthropology, education, moral philosophy), so that the broad outlines of an ethics for the humanities, specifically geared to the concerns and needs of humanities scholars, can begin to emerge.


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