LINGUIST List 11.786

Wed Apr 5 2000

Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Scott DeLancey, Re: 11.771, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
  2. Michael A. Covington, Re: Political action by linguistic organization
  3. Claire Bowern, Re: 11.776, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Message 1: Re: 11.771, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Wed, 5 Apr 2000 10:49:28 -0700 (PDT)
From: Scott DeLancey <>
Subject: Re: 11.771, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Trace Mansfield <> writes:

> 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.

Are you a member of the LSA? Presumably you're not in the habit of
attending LSA meetings, or at least not the business meetings where these
things are usually discussed. No, there is no such committee, and no, it
is not a function which LSA officers have taken on. Motions like this
originate with the membership, are proposed, discussed, and voted on at
the business meeting, then:

	if they receive affirmative vote of a majority of members
	voting at the meeting [the motion is] then to be submitted
	by the Executive Committee to a mail ballot of the membership
	of the Society in the next issue of the LSA Bulletin. (from
	the October LSA Bulletin; this is reprinted every year)

If you would really like to know more about this, it's not that hard
to find out (read the LSA Bulletin, for a start).

> 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.

That's exactly how it works. Resolutions such as the one protesting
the Illini mascot are proposed by members, and discussed and voted on 
by the assembled membership, or at least those who bother to show up
for the business meeting every January.

Scott DeLancey
Department of Linguistics 
1290 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403-1290, USA

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Message 2: Re: Political action by linguistic organization

Date: Wed, 5 Apr 2000 11:01:22 -0400
From: Michael A. Covington <>
Subject: Re: Political action by linguistic organization

To answer a question that came up, my understanding is that the Illinois
(UIUC) motions were all introduced and voted on at the most recent LSA
business meeting. The ERA and gay rights boycotts, however, apparently came
out of the Executive Committee and/or the Secretariat without formally being
put before the members. Note that the gay rights boycott extends to about
half of the 50 states, not just a few.

At least one person made the very good point that if the LSA is to have a
political agenda, it needs a more orderly process for setting it. We could
find *hundreds* of issues that, arguably, deserve political action. We
could also find things to object to in the laws of *any* state or region.
So do we go after all of them, or do we set priorities in some way, or do we
stick to linguistics?

What concerns me more is that an LSA boycott is mostly an action taken by
the LSA against its own profession and its own members. Governments feel
very little pressure from the LSA; but members and potential members are
harmed when their national society decides not to be fully functional in a
particular region.

For example, whom, exactly, was the LSA punishing for the (now defunct)
Georgia sodomy law? The Georgia legislature didn't care about the LSA, and
the Georgia tourism industry cared only slightly, if at all; but by failing
to hold meetings in the Southeast, the LSA failed to assist in the
development of linguistics in this region for all those years. (The law
was finally changed by a court ruling for which the LSA can't claim any

Similar arguments apply to any other boycotted area. The other societies to
which I belong (ACL, IEEE) would never think of boycotting part of the
country they claim to serve; in fact the IEEE has set up a vigorous system
of local chapters -- something the LSA cannot do as long as it considers
many parts of the United States locus non gratus.

As before, please reply to the list, not by e-mail. Thanks.

Michael A. Covington / AI Center / The University of Georgia <><
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Message 3: Re: 11.776, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Wed, 05 Apr 2000 13:56:54 -0400
From: Claire Bowern <>
Subject: Re: 11.776, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

As a newcomer to the US I closely followed the saga of the
presidential primaries. One catchcry of practically all the candicates
was "I will no be influenced by secial interest groups". If we do not
participate in the protests against "Chief Illiniwek" the people whom
the subject immediately concerns (for example, the Native American
students at the University of Illinois), they will be dismissed as a
'special interest group' and their wishes will be continued to be
sidelined. We need to make it known that many people find "Chief
Illiniwek" offensive and unacceptable.

 From Sally Thomason:
 >"The second that "Chief Illiniwek", like other Native
 >American stereotypes, harms Native American members of the LSA and
 >also non-Native LSA members whose professional life is devoted to work
 >with Native American and other minority communities: anything that
 >increases the level of hostility felt by Native Americans toward
 >insensitive Anglos makes it more difficult for linguists to carry out
 >research and contribute to language preservation efforts in Native
 >American communities.

Absolutely. When doing field work in Australia last year I spent a
great deal of time convincing the communities I worked with that I
wasn't going to record stories and then buzz off back down South and
leave then with nothing, that I would be sensitive to their cultural
practices (subject taboos, restrictions on women going outside during
initiation ceremonies, and such like).

Finally, it's a matter of principle. Everyone knows what happens with
the attitude "it doesn't directly affect me so I won't do anything
about it." I don't need to supply any quotations. You don't need to be
shot before you favour gun control. However, for those of you who have
not been the subject of racism recently I urge you to go out and
experience it - it may make you feel a bit less apathetic towards
racism against others.

Claire Bowern
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