[Lingtyp] On policing linguistic examples

Felicity Meakins f.meakins at uq.edu.au
Mon Mar 21 23:53:10 UTC 2022

Hi all,

We also comment on this in our field methods textbook (p. 129) and use a reflection from Torres Strait Islander linguist Al Harvey about this issue to illustrate how it can affect communities:

Meakins, F., Green, J., & Turpin, M. (2018). Understanding linguistic fieldwork. London: Routledge.
“One of the problems with publishing some of the sentences made up by linguists is that they become instantiations of culture and may perpetuate negative stereotypes about often already marginalised people. For example, grammars are full of sen- tences exemplifying transitivity using verbs that denote violence. ‘Hit’ is a classic transitive verb, but so is ‘hug’ or ‘carry’. When you construct sentences for elicita- tion, avoid topics that refer to violence, sex, alcohol, drugs (including smoking), child abuse or neglect, as these may upset people down the track. Also bear in mind that descendants of the speakers may read the grammar in years to come, or may be an audience member in a presentation using data you collected. Imagine that you are trying to re-construct your language and the only verb in the corpus is ‘hit’!
Perpetuating negative stereotypes of communities – Al Harvey

My name is Al Harvey, I am of Saibai Island descent and am currently work- ing on a project to preserve, document and protect the Top Western Torres Strait Island dialect of Kalaw Kawaw Ya (KKY).

Today KKY, like many other Australian Indigenous languages, is endan- gered. The loss of languages is more than just the loss of spoken word. It has always been explained to me that languages are a reflection of a peo- ple’s soul and way of living in the world. Speakers and descendants of a language have a role to play in the preservation and maintenance of that language but so too do people who work with those languages, including linguists. It’s important that linguists are cognisant of the role they play in acting as a facilitator in the preservation of languages. Linguists also need to be aware that language data gathered is presented in a way that reflects the good faith in which it was given.

I was at a linguistics workshop recently where the presenters offered sen- tences from an Aboriginal language. One of the sentences presented in the targeted language translated into English as ‘The man hit the woman’. For the purpose of the exercise it seemed to me to be an unnecessary display of a negative stereotype in a forum of predominately non-Indigenous linguists.

Thinking of language data beyond something to be scientifically analysed and being cognisant that the language you’re working with comes from the soul of a people would surely go some way to avoiding such unnecessary representations.”
Regards, Felicity

Prof Felicity Meakins FASSA  |  Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow |
ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language<http://www.dynamicsoflanguage.edu.au/>
Fellow of Academy of Social Sciences Australia<https://socialsciences.org.au/> (FASSA)
Editor of Contact Language Library<https://benjamins.com/#catalog/books/coll/main> |
School of Languages and Cultures | University of Queensland |
Brisbane QLD 4072 | AUSTRALIA
RM 434 | Gordon Greenwood Bldg (32) |
' +61 7 3365 3114 | ' +61 411 404 546 |
email f.meakins at uq.edu.au<mailto:f.meakins at uq.edu.au> |
web http://researchers.uq.edu.au/researcher/547

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From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf of Hagay Schurr <hschurr at gradcenter.cuny.edu>
Date: Saturday, 19 March 2022 at 4:19 am
To: "lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org" <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Subject: [Lingtyp] On policing linguistic examples

Dear Sebastian,

I'm only aware of the debate around LSA guidelines in the early 2000's, including, among others, Postal's (2003, 187) reply  :

"it is arbitrary and discriminatory to try policing them only with respect to one or more favored victim groups, the policing code is necessarily incompatible with the principle of free speech, and, finally, it is in any event not possible to actually codify usage conditions that genuinely pick out all and only the offensive. Given all this, codes like the LSA guidelines are in part harmful and in part useless." (Postal 2003, 187).

Postal's paper will lead you to some relevant publications that defends policing to some extent.


Postal, P. M. (2003). Policing the content of linguistic examples. Language, 79(1), 182-188.
From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf of lingtyp-request at listserv.linguistlist.org <lingtyp-request at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Sent: Friday, March 18, 2022 12:00 PM
To: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Subject: [EXTERNAL]Lingtyp Digest, Vol 90, Issue 21

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Today's Topics:

   1. Reference for violence (hit,      kill) in articles in linguistics
      needed (Sebastian Nordhoff)


Message: 1
Date: Fri, 18 Mar 2022 12:51:15 +0100
From: Sebastian Nordhoff <sebastian.nordhoff at glottotopia.de>
To: "lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org"
        <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Subject: [Lingtyp] Reference for violence (hit, kill) in articles in
        linguistics needed
Message-ID: <7a23c27d-4cc4-e57b-37c6-ac5570a6d144 at glottotopia.de>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8; format=flowed

Dear all,
I have occasionally been part in discussions where the frequent use of
violent concepts such as 'hit' or 'kill' in linguistics is mentioned and
sometimes criticized.

I believe there is some research article providing empirical evidence
for  linguistic articles being unnecessarily "violent", but I am unable
to locate it. Could the list members help me?

Best wishes

PS: I am aware that 'hit' and 'kill' have a number of semantic
properties which make them very suitable for a number of research questions.


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