LSA Ethics Statement

1. Introduction 

This statement sets forth a basic ethical framework and governing ethical principles for the discipline of linguistics and its subdisciplines. It is the responsibility of linguists, individually and collectively, to hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards, to anticipate ethical dilemmas, to avoid bringing harm to those with whom we work, and to actively strive to ensure that our work benefits others. 

The framework and principles outlined in this document are intentionally written to provide linguists with guidance for making ethical choices in professional, supervisory, teaching, research, and other contexts. This statement is not meant to replace formal research ethics oversight, nor is it meant to provide an exhaustive code of conduct. It is intended to serve as a resource for holding ourselves accountable to a core set of principles and for demonstrating to students, review bodies, funding agencies, research participants, and others the professional commitment on the part of linguists and of linguistics as a discipline to carrying out all aspects of our work in an ethical manner. This statement also serves as a starting point for further conversation and critique, as the LSA Ethics Committee encourages linguists to assiduously engage with the ethical issues that arise in the course of our professional activities and aims to foster increased discussion of ethics within the discipline.

2. Disciplinary Ideals, Professional Conduct, and Expectations of Civility

The Linguistic Society of America is a member of the Science and Human Rights Coalition of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, whose work is “grounded in the principles and laws set forth in the International Bill of Human Rights and all other relevant international human rights treaties and norms.” 

As an organization that advances the scientific study of all human languages and advocates for the language rights of all human beings, the LSA is committed to the ideals and principles of equality and anti-discrimination. It is the LSA’s position that gender identity, marital status, race, ethnic background, social class, political beliefs, disability, religion, national origin, language, sexual orientation, age, and other such distinctions must not be a basis for discrimination. Further, the LSA is committed to providing a safe, welcoming, non-discriminatory, and non-coercive environment in order to promote free academic exchange. 

It is the responsibility of linguists, individually and collectively, to ensure that we uphold the ideals and principles of equality and anti-discrimination in our professional interactions—in our language and in our behavior, on a personal level, in our interactions with others, in our institutional roles, and in our academic commitments. As outlined in the LSA Code of Conduct for Events, adopted September 2023, "all forms of uncollegiality and harassment are considered by the LSA to be serious forms of professional misconduct." The Code of Conduct for Events outlines expectations governing standards of behavior and interactions for all those who attend or participate in LSA events, including annual meetings, institutes, and other sponsored activities. This ethics statement echoes these same expectations. Linguists are responsible for: 

  • Not engaging in coercive, intimidating, harassing, abusive, derogatory or demeaning actions or speech.
  • Not engaging in prejudicial actions or commentary that relate to a person’s identity or group membership, coerce others, foment broad hostility, or otherwise undermine professional equity or the principles of free academic exchange.
  • Not engaging in persistent and unwelcome physical contact or solicitation of emotional, sexual, or other physical intimacy, including stalking.
Furthermore, these responsibilities not only apply to LSA-sponsored activities (e.g. annual meetings, institutes, etc.), but in fact apply to all settings where linguists conduct their work -- such as regular workplace settings, both live and digital, field settings in which many linguists train and work, and other settings associated with professionally-sponsored programs and activities (e.g. meetings, publications, honors and recognition, governance programs, and all appointed, elected, and volunteer positions). 

3. Additional Responsibilities to Participants, Communities, and the Public

Linguists should model and promote ethical behavior in all our professional activities, including when working with research participants as well as broader communities.

Participants. Research participants share their knowledge and often aspects of their lives with researchers. Even if an institutional ethics committee deems that a research project is exempt from obtaining the committee’s approval, linguists should do everything in their power and in their capacities to ensure that their research follows the core principles of respect for persons (the intrinsic value of individuals), welfare (the quality of an individual’s experiences) and justice (the obligation to treat individuals fairly, equitably, and with dignity). Research participants have the right to control whether their actions are recorded in such a way that they can be connected with their personal identity. They also have the right to be meaningfully engaged with respect to whom will have access to the resulting data or knowledge. Linguists are responsible for:
  • Obtaining informed consent from participants and ensuring that any individual’s participation in research is completely voluntary at every stage. (Anonymous observations of public behavior, which often cannot involve full knowledge of the potential consequences, should be thoroughly vetted with research ethics boards; if allowable, such research should include no information that could inadvertently identify individuals or, where sensitive, the community.)
  • Maintaining all expected confidentiality in storing data and reporting findings.
  • Considering carefully whether some kind of compensation to participants is appropriate, be it remuneration for time and effort, formal recognition of their contribution to the creation or documentation of knowledge, use of participants’ knowledge and expertise to benefit them or their communities, and so on. 
  • Consulting with participants, as suitable to the context or community, about the shape, direction, conduct, outcome, sharing, dissemination, archiving, and stewardship of research results.
  • Facilitating, as suitable to the context or community, participants’ access to research results.
Communities and the public. Linguists should consider how our research affects not only individual research participants, but also broader communities. In general, linguists should work together with members of the community to strive to determine what will be constructive for all those involved in a research encounter, taking into account the community’s cultural norms and values. Ideal frameworks for interaction with outside researchers vary depending on a community’s particular culture and history. In many communities, responsibility for linguistic and cultural knowledge is viewed as collective, so that individual community members are not in a position to consent to share materials with outsiders, and linguists must try to determine whether there are individuals who can legitimately represent the community in working out the terms of research. Language, oral literature, and other forms of linguistic knowledge are cultural and collective knowledge whose ownership must be respected; linguists should comply with a community’s wishes regarding access, archiving, and distribution of results. Some communities are eager to share their knowledge in the context of a long-term relationship of reciprocity and exchange. In all cases where the community has an investment in or is affected by the output of language research, the aims of an investigation should be clearly discussed with the community and community involvement sought from the earliest stages of project planning. Linguists are responsible for:
  • Ensuring that we respect communities’ wishes, follow culturally-appropriate protocols, and use data and/or knowledge collected in ways that are consistent with community norms, expectations, and understandings of data/knowledge use and dissemination.
  • Ensuring, if so desired by the community, that the community is an integral part of the process of determining the research question(s), the ways of collecting data, and the analysis and dissemination of data.
  • Making all reasonable efforts to preserve original irreplaceable data and documentary material and returning, wherever feasible, data and knowledge gained to the community for stewardship. Not all data or knowledge collected with the aid of linguists or on behalf of linguistic scholarship belongs to linguists.
  • Making results of our research available to communities and, where appropriate, to the public in ways that adhere to communities’ and participants’ wishes and expectations and in ways that are comprehensible to non-professionals.
  • Considering carefully the impact of what is shared through publication, specifically whether this could affect the communities’ social status or relationship with political structures.
  • Giving consideration to the social and political implications of our research; this includes anticipating any likely misinterpretations of research findings, assessing potential damage they may cause, and making all reasonable efforts for prevention of such damage.
  • Considering carefully the use of technologies that they may be involved in developing, including their potential role in social and political decision-making processes and their intended and unintended consequences -- especially for, but not limited to, those who are affected by the technologies and especially in, but not limited to, high-stakes environments such as the military, health care, the law/judicial systems, employment, and education (including assessment).

4. Additional Responsibilities to Students, Colleagues, and the Discipline

Linguists should model and promote ethical behavior in all our professional activities, including when working with students as well as colleagues, and in relation to the broader activities of the discipline and the professoriate.

    Students.  Linguists should ensure that our relationships with students (at all levels) are established and carried out in ways that are fair and equitable, civil, non-coercive, and non-exploitative -- due, in particular, to the fact that professors are responsible for student success in roles that include but are not limited to: direct instruction, research supervision, thesis committee membership, research collaboration, teaching supervision, and administrative supervision. Linguists are responsible for:
  • Actively avoiding intimate personal relationships with students, post-docs, mentees, advisees, assistants, etc. with whom there is a power-over relationship.
  • Evaluating student work in a fair and timely manner.
  • Ensuring that students are appropriately instructed in ethical research practices.
  • Properly acknowledging any and all contributions of students and other collaborators to our research, including adhering to established academic expectations and protocols for attribution and standards of authorship on presentations and publications. 
  • Ensuring, for linguists who are responsible for undergraduate and graduate admissions and funding decisions, fair compensation for student labor and equal opportunity for admission, assistantships, fellowship consideration, and the like.
Colleagues and the discipline. Linguists should ensure that our relationships with colleagues are established and carried out in ways that are fair and equitable, civil, non-coercive, and non-exploitative. Linguists should also ensure that our scholarship is established and carried out with integrity, in ways that are intellectually and academically honest. Linguists are responsible for:
  • Not plagiarizing the words or ideas of others. 
  • Maintaining confidentiality in contexts that require it.
  • Reporting results with rigor and integrity (including not fabricating or falsifying data, engaging in p-hacking, etc.). 
  • Citing carefully in one’s work the original sources of ideas, descriptions, and data.
  • Following through on promises made in funded grant proposals and acknowledging the support of sponsors.
  • Ensuring, for linguists who are responsible for hiring as well as for tenure/promotion decisions, such as department heads, large grant holders, and committee members, equal opportunity for candidates and fair compensation for academic labor.
  • Promoting open expression of a diversity of ideas, including carrying out fair review of the work of colleagues (e.g., journal articles, grant proposals) without bias as related to the author’s identity, area of study, and/or theoretical orientation and by acknowledging potential conflicts of interest.
  • Promoting respectful interchange of ideas and avoiding the use of demeaning or unwelcoming discourse in response to the intellectual inquiries of others, including those from linguistic subfields other than our own, those from other disciplines, and those from outside the academy.
  • Promoting, wherever appropriate and possible, data sharing, replication, and reproducibility, as well as archiving in repositories that are accessible.
  • Ensuring openness and fairness of the academic publication and review process, particularly on the part of editors, reviewers, and others responsible for publication and funding decisions.
  • Presenting the findings of our discipline in a fair, accurate, and easily comprehensible manner when teaching in the classroom and when speaking or writing for the general public.
Linguists who have had complaints of harassment or discrimination or other behaviors outlined in the Civility Policy substantiated against them have the further responsibility to decline (1) nominations for professional awards and (2) invitations to participate in roles in scholarly associations, editorships, funding agencies, and the like, that would put them in a position to affect the professional outcomes of others.

5. Acknowledgments

In 2006 the Executive Committee of the Linguistic Society of America established an ad hoc Ethics Committee which was charged with the task of drafting new guidelines for the responsible conduct of linguistic research. Members of the committee were Claire Bowern, Lise Dobrin, Penny Eckert, Ted Gibson, Jane Hill, Keith Johnson, Jack Martin, Philip Rubin, Susan Steele, and Sara Trechter. Monica Macaulay served as the committee’s representative to the LSA Executive Committee. The ethics statement was drafted in early 2007 and revised in late 2008. It was influenced in part by the 1988 Statement of Ethics of the American Folklore Society and by the 1998 Code of Ethics of the American Anthropological Association. In 2018-2019, the ethics statement was revised by the Ethics Committee, whose members were Christine Mallinson (committee chair), Claire Bowern, Ron Butters, Mike Cahill, Alex D’Arcy, Lise Dobrin, Elaine Francis, Jeff Good, Marianne Huijsmans, Olga Lovick, Alireza Salehi-Nejad, and Jonathan Washington. Norma Mendoza-Denton served as the committee’s representative to the LSA Executive Committee. Feedback received from LSA members at the January 2019 annual meeting, from the LSA Executive Committee, and from member comments was incorporated into the revised statement, which was finalized in July 2019. The 2019 Ethics Committee recommends that the LSA Ethics Statement again be revised in 7 years, or sooner if circumstances warrant. 

6. Further Resources

A list of further resources related to ethics -- including other ethics statements, guidelines, and materials of the LSA, of other linguistic organizations, of neighboring disciplines, and of other academic organizations -- can be accessed here.

Approved July of 2019; updated with revised LSA Code of Conduct for Events in November 2023