LINGUIST List 11.755

Mon Apr 3 2000

Disc: New: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Michael Covington, Political Action by Linguistic Organizations

Message 1: Political Action by Linguistic Organizations

Date: Mon, 3 Apr 2000 15:07:45 -0400
From: Michael Covington <>
Subject: Political Action by Linguistic Organizations

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I want to question whether it is proper for a national scholarly
organization to divert resources away from linguistics toward political
causes, or to refuse to function in part of the nation it claims to

The Linguistic Society of America seems to be trying to do both. The LSA is
presently voting on motions to (1) censure the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for using an Indian chief
as a mascot, (2) boycott UIUC, and (3) boycott the state of Illinois. See
the yellow ballot in the Bulletin, or, online,

The LSA has also, for many years, refused to hold meetings in certain states
because those states did not pass the Equal Rights Amendment or did not have
an acceptable gay rights policy. For example, the upcoming 2004 LSA meeting
in Atlanta will be the first one there in over a quarter of a century;
Georgia was boycotted for both reasons in succession.

This raises a number of questions in my mind.

(a) Aren't we paying dues for the LSA to promote linguistics, not for it to
promote of other causes no matter how worthy?

(b) By refusing to hold meetings in some states, isn't the LSA failing in
its duty to promote the development of the profession there?

After all, there are dues-paying members in all 50 states, and linguists
cannot, single-handedly, change their state laws and even neighboring
universities' athletic mascots to make them acceptable to the LSA.

I'm in favor of the LSA making statements on political issues *when* the
issue is one on which linguists are specially qualified to speak. Arguably,
objecting to a Native American stereotype is such an issue, because
linguists have special knowledge of Native Americans. Much earlier, the LSA
cited scientific objections to the Nazi concept of an "Aryan race"
(Indo-European is a language, not an ethnicity).

However, in my opinion the LSA's political activism should stop there, and
regardless of political climate, the LSA should never boycott places where
it has members.

*Linguists* are welcome to be politically active, of course -- but not by
side-tracking an organization whose purpose is not politics.

Do others agree? Please reply to the list rather than by e-mail.

Michael A. Covington - Artificial Intelligence Ctr - University of Georgia
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