LINGUIST List 11.766

Tue Apr 4 2000

Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Nitti45, Re: 11.755, Disc: New: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Message 1: Re: 11.755, Disc: New: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Tue, 4 Apr 2000 04:32:07 EDT
From: Nitti45 <>
Subject: Re: 11.755, Disc: New: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

	Dear Linguistlist:
	I should like to respond to Michael A. Covington's posting concerning 
	political activities on the part of linguistic organizations:
	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
	One way in which this resource diversion question could be addressed can be 
	found in an example of a trade union signup sheet I once saw some years ago. 
	I shall adapt the appropriate portion here:
	"Note to member: The Amalgamated Widgetmakers Union routinely uses a portion 
	of member dues for political activity. Check here [box] if you do *not* wish 
	your dues to be used for this purpose."
	That should give the membership a little more say in the allocation of their 
	association's resources.
	With regard to the boycott question, it is not so clear cut. I think that 
	this question calls for an excercise of judgment in each particular case. 
	...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.... 
	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.
	My observation: A university is one thing, but a whole state? Covington 
	goes on:
	...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.
	All this is true. As I allude to above, censures and boycotts of a 
	university by such organizations as the LSA might reasonably be expected to 
	have some noticeable effect on said university but, aside and apart from the 
	'fair representation' issue raised by Covington is the practical question: 
	Just how much effect is a boycott of an entire state by any organization of 
	linguists going to have on the government of that state? I say, a negligible 
	one, if any at all. Let's face it, there just aren't all that many 
	professional linguists on this earth.
	It will be objected that, practical considerations aside, the moral high 
	ground must be taken at all costs. But just how far can this be carried in 
	practice? I could see a boycott on principle, come what may, of some country 
	that came under some neo-Nazi regime; that brooks no argument. But having 
	one or two laws that are seen as objectionable, or allowing a politically 
	incorrect university mascot, hardly qualify as falling into that type of 
	In conclusion, I must in all fairness point out that language and politics 
	are often inextricably linked to one another. Be that as it may, the 
	conscientious linguist must never forget which of these two fields takes 
	precedence, when and if conflict arises.
	 Cordially yours,
	 Richard S. 
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