LINGUIST List 11.771

Tue Apr 4 2000

Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Martha McGinnis, Re: 11.766, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
  2. Mike Cahill, Political Action by Linguistic Organizations
  3. Trace Mansfield, Re: 11.766, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Message 1: Re: 11.766, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Tue, 4 Apr 2000 10:20:32 -0600
From: Martha McGinnis <>
Subject: Re: 11.766, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

I don't think it's inappropriate for the LSA to
avoid holding the Annual Meeting in states that
treat homosexuals as criminals. Like many other
organizations, the LSA has avoided holding meetings
in these states to express support of the homosexual
community, including any number of its own members.
Similar reasoning holds for the Equal Rights
Amendment, though fortunately no one's made it
illegal to be a practising female.

For current information on civil rights in
the US, check out the ACLU's site at The ACLU notes that
about 20 states still have laws criminalizing
some forms of sexual intimacy, some only between
members of the same sex.

Of course, the LSA executive should be accountable
to the membership. Members who believe that the
executive committee should not act on civil rights
issues may want to consider running for election
to the committee on that platform, and let the
voters decide.
Dr. Martha McGinnis
Assistant Professor of Linguistics, University of Calgary
2500 University Dr. NW, Calgary, AB T2N 1N4 CANADA
phone: (403) 220-6119, fax: (403) 282-3880
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Message 2: Political Action by Linguistic Organizations

Date: Tue, 04 Apr 2000 11:39:39 -0500
From: Mike Cahill <>
Subject: Political Action by Linguistic Organizations

Michael Covington has raised a legitimate question in his posting
"Political Action by Linguistic Organizations". Should we as a
linguistic organization speak out on political matters which are
non-linguistic? I find myself agreeing with his conclusions even when
disagreeing with some of his reasons. When he says:

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

I don't regard that as a legitimate reason for staying out of political
discourse on an issue. Just because your chances of "winning" look
faint doesn't mean you don't speak up! But when he writes:

 "I'm in favor of the LSA making statements on political issues
 the issue is one on which linguists are specially qualified to
 speak. "

that is the crux of the matter. As an organization, we have a duty,
I'd think, to speak out on issues which have a linguistic component,
but run the risk of looking irrelevant at best, and at worst maybe
pompous or even silly, if we start pronouncing on areas outside our
organizational expertise. Note that I emphasize "organizational".
Like Covington, I have no problem with individuals who want to
speak to any side of any issue as individuals.

There are surely many issues in America which have a
language/linguistic component in them, among them bilingual education,
Bill Clinton's definition of "is", the "English-only" movement,
foreign language courses/education, and stereotypes based on accent,
to name a few off the top of my head. The Native American issues
addressed at the last LSA, and "desecrating" the flag are arguably
also cases related to language and behavior. But issues such as gay
rights and creationism are outside our organizational scope of
expertise. To maintain our credibility, let's speak only on issues
where we can credibly contribute.

 Mike Cahill
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Message 3: Re: 11.766, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Tue, 4 Apr 2000 14:21:50 -0400
From: Trace Mansfield <>
Subject: Re: 11.766, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

I hope that I don't regret opening my big mouth, but...

Is there an LSA committee that decides the bases upon which the organization
as a whole will found its political gestures, or is this simply an auxiliary
function that the LSA officers have taken on *without* a mandate from the
other members? I would be interested to know who it is that decides that
bigoted representations of indigenous peoples, or inadequate representations
of gays, merit censure or boycotting, whereas legislature designed to squash
a linguistic minority (for example) might not. If this is simply a matter of
limited resources, that is to say, so many issues and so little time and/or
money, then I would like to know more about that as well.

I would also like to know who it is that determines the appropriate *scope*
of such gestures, that is to say, it seems that the LSA avoids holding
conferences in those states whose practices it (or this ad hoc Moral
Authority Committee) finds objectionable, and yet the United States as a
whole evidently seems to be pure enough in its actions that they don't feel
the need to move their meetings outside of the country (or not hold them at
all). The objection that such an example is absurd/extreme is simply another
way of saying that there *is* a cost beyond which they do not find it
*convenient* to take the moral high ground. Avoiding one or two states out
of fifty hardly seems to be self-sacrificial enough to deserve to be called
a protest. In that sense, I suppose that what bothers me is that the LSA
seems to be speaking as if it were exerting the type of effort that would be
appropriate for civil rights issues, but they are only exerting the small
amount of effort that you might use to avoid tuna that's not dolphin-safe
(just reach one can farther down the shelf). If my estimation is unfair, or
if I am grossly underinformed, then please correct me.

In any case, I'm not arguing the against the issues that "the LSA" evidently
decides to censure, and in fact the take on the issues discussed earlier in
this thread generally aligns with my own, but that seems to be more a matter
of coincidence than anything else. The issues and venues might *not* be
arbitrary, but their *selection* appears to be so; however, if there *is* a
motivated process behind these decisions, then it might be more fair to let
the whole (dues-paying, quasi-voting) membership in on that process, even if
it is only to the degree that they get to choose the members of the
committee whose personal biases they will all be associated with for the
following year.

- Tracy C. Mansfield
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