LINGUIST List 11.927

Sun Apr 23 2000

Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <>


  1. Salkie Raf, Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
  2. jose luis guijarro, RE: 11.806, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
  3. Trace Mansfield, Re: 11.806, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
  4. Lotfi, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
  5. proto-language, Re: 11.807, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Message 1: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Wed, 5 Apr 2000 16:33:36 +0100
From: Salkie Raf <>
Subject: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

I've been following the discussion about the LSA and political issues with
interest. Richard Kaminski wrote: 

"I could see a boycott on principle, come what may, of some country that
came under some neo-Nazi regime; that brooks no argument."

Linguist subscribers might like to consider their relation with
Austria, which raises exactly this question. Recently the
International Office at my University received a message from Arnold
Schmidt, the President of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). The
messageis reproduced below, and can be found on the FWF web site at:

The message raises some difficult questions . 

Firstly, at no point does Mr. Schmidt say anything specific to the effect
that he or his organisation are opposed to the Freedom Party, or that they
will make efforts within Austria to reduce its electoral support, to oppose
any oppressive measures that it tries to implement, and to combat the
intolerance and racism to which it appeals. Are vague statements about
"promoting a climate of openness and tolerance" enough? His primary concern
is to ask the international community not to break off contacts with
Austrian scientists. Does he have any right to expect our support if he is
not making any serious effort to earn it? On the other hand, do I have the
right to insist that he and his organisation adopt a particular political
position before I give him my support? These are not easy questions, but
they are crucial ones and the original message seems to avoid them. 

Secondly, he offers us no other way for people outside Austria to bring
pressure to bear on the new Austrian government. To take one example, there
is a linguistics conference in Graz this summer which I would normally be
interested in attending (TaLC 2000: Fourth International Conference on
Teaching and Language Corpora). My choices seem to be:

*	Attend as if nothing had happened.
*	Attend and use it as an opportunity to find out about the situation
in Austria first hand, making contact with people opposed to right-wing
extremism in the country.
*	Not attend.
*	Not attend and make a public declaration that I am boycotting
Austria while it has far right politicians in government.

What do other people think? -- Raphael Salkie

Appeal from the Austria Science Fund

Arnold Schmidt, president of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) has appealed to
all scientist working abroad for continued support. In an open letter to all
scientist he states: 

'As of a few days ago, Austria has a new coalition government. A number of
statements from leading members of one of the two coalition partners have
given rise to a wave of protest both within Austria an abroad. The situation
is very worrying for science in Austria, as the vast majority of our
colleagues and friends abroad will recognise. In its over thirty years of
existence the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) has established itself as part of
the international 'scientific community'. One of our primary objectives is
the promotion of every conceivable form of international scientific
cooperation. In addition, we are constantly striving to overcome borders of
all kinds, to oppose any measures that would cause divisions and to promote
a climate of openness and tolerance. Naturally none of this will change in
the future. I appeal to all scientists working abroad to continue to support
us in these endeavours and to maintain or increase contacts and cooperations
with scientists working in Austria.' Arnold Schmidt, President of the FWF.

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Message 2: RE: 11.806, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Sun, 9 Apr 2000 11:50:59 +0200
From: jose luis guijarro <>
Subject: RE: 11.806, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

On Sat, 8 Apr 2000 10:18:27 -0500

From: "proto-language" <>
and on the subject: disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

> Many "political activists" have no hesitation in twisting a word so
> tortuously that its original signficance is totally lost.
> "Racist" means pertaining to a notion that one's own racial stock is
> superior. And that is all it should mean for anyone who wishes to
> communicate by using words in a standardized way. There is absolutely
> nothing about the "Chief" which suggests this notion of racial
> superiority in any way; and to characterize it as "racist" is to
> betray the common but unjustifiable habit of mischaracterizing an idea
> or action with a label that would, if correctly applied, mandate
> automatic condemnation. That any member of an organization like the
> LSA is incapable of applying English words correctly is obviously
> surprising. What happened to semantics?

I am not an American and don't live in the US, so I have no idea what the
whole fuss is about.

However, Pat shows in this message a different idea of semantics from the
one I have. For me, the meaning of a word (as the meaning of an expression
composed by so many words) is not "intrinsic" to that word. Pat seems to
believe that the "normal" (?!) semantic relationship is univocal between a
term in a language and a mental or real object, and that this relationship
establishes the "correct" application of the word in all cases.

In my own view, the word could be thought of as a "pointer" we have at our
disposition in order to show a place in a given semantic field. The real
meaning of each use, however, would have to be inferred from relevant
contextual information at our disposal at any given time --in the same vein
as the expression JOHN HAS ALWAYS BEEN VERY INTELLIGENT can mean at least
two different things if we have a context A (John has got the Nobel Prize)
or context B (John, who is forty, still believes in Santa Claus).

It is clear that some contexts get more and more self-evident by the
continous use of them in the process of communicating with words or
expressions; but from there to pretend that only one semantic possibility
corresponds to any given word or expression is a great jump that I don't
find justifiable. Though I willingly accept the possibility of having
perhaps misconstrued Pat's idea because of my poor knowledge of English...
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Message 3: Re: 11.806, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Sun, 9 Apr 2000 10:15:03 -0400
From: Trace Mansfield <>
Subject: Re: 11.806, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

> > At our summer meeting, the SSILA members present voted unanimously
> > to censure UI for maintaining this racist mascot in spite of ten
> > years of protest by Native American students and in spite of votes
> > by (for instance) over 700 UI faculty members.
> Many "political activists" have no hesitation in twisting a word so
>tortuously that its original signficance is totally lost.

There doesn't seem to be any twisting here other than that afforded by the
natural growth of a language, which means that there is no ill-intended
twisting as the reply seems to suggest. If you accept the origins of the
(American?) English word "racist" as an adjectival form of the French term
"racisme" as used back in the 1870s (as opposed to, for example, noting that
"racism" in turn came from the Italian "razza" in the 1500s, and so on),
then its "original significance" is not lost in the least, much less
"totally lost", particularly (but not only) because the continued use of the
mascot *is* a display of superiority. I support this contention five or six
paragraphs below, after getting the less important "meaning" issue out of
the way.

>"Racist" means pertaining to a notion that one's own racial stock is

That is certainly one thing that "racist" means, and it is perhaps what it
was first used to mean when it was originally adopted, but there are a
number of standards which indicate that this is not all that it means.

>And that is all it should mean for anyone who wishes to
>communicate by using words in a standardized way.

Personal preferences naturally vary, but there are still a number of
dictionaries which are recognized as standards, at least insofar as the
*definitions* that they contain are recognized as standard; in fact, such
dictionaries can be said to support the notion that certain of their
definitions are more central than others because they explicitly assign
time- or domain-specific labels (for example) to meanings that they want to
identify as less common. A quick survey of several such standards reveals
that one definition of "racist" is equated with expressions of superiority,
and other definitions listed under precisely the same entries indicate that
"racist" is used to identify acts that display racial intolerance or hatred
rather than simple superiority. Given that this latter definition is not
identified as any less common in any of these sources, it seems that this
meaning should reasonably be able to be used "by anyone who wishes to
communicate by using words in a standardized way".

>There is absolutely
>nothing about the "Chief" which suggests this notion of racial
>superiority in any way;

We're talking about representative symbols here, and conflict arises when
such a symbol is treated with respect by one group, and with a lack of that
respect (if not actual disrespect) by another. This is increasingly more
likely to be true as the closeness between the represented group and that
symbol increases. That closeness can reach the point of equation, such as
when the the members of a group naturally associate themselves with a
symbolic portrayal of a group member.

Now, I am trying to be careful here to make sure that Mr. Ryan does not get
the misimpression that I am treating him personally in anything other than a
respectful manner (albeit occasionally wry in a manner that I intend as
nothing less than friendly), *even if* it would seem like harmless fun to me
to tease a colleague mercilessly in front of his/her professional peers.
Were I to lampoon his position (not that I am suggesting that it is
lampoonable -- and I mean to use that word in nothing less than a standard
way), he might rightfully protest.

I respect Mr. Ryan's right to have his objections taken seriously by his
reviewers. (Of course, he might be comfortable with -- and perhaps even
support -- what some people would say is my equally strong right to ignore
or even nastily mock his protests, not to mention his original response.) If
he were to protest that he felt treated badly, then I would have no
reasonable recourse than to accept *him* as the authority on that issue;
unless, of course, I either held *myself* to be the greater authority on
*his* feelings, or I simply blew off his protests because I felt no reason
(or pressure) to take his protestations into account. Either act on my part
would be an expression of superiority over him. People who symbolically
desecrate flags, religious symbols, and the like are doing the same thing to
those people who hold those symbols dear -- they are expressing the
inferiority of the humiliated group insofar as that group does not have the
power to stop the desecration.

In that sense, the refusal to treat such a symbol with greater respect *is*
in fact a display of racial superiority. So, arguments about standard usage
of words aside, the use of the word "racist" to describe the mascot is
appropriate. If it is appropriate, then it was not tortuously twisted with
evil intent, and without the evil intent, the author of the remark does not
seem (as implied by PCR) to be a blackguard (and a villanous one at that). I
must admit that I do not know if I use the word "blackguard" with its
original meaning, because it has been obscured by well over 400 years of
actual use. (Smile when you say that, pardner.)

So, when a mascot can be equated with a symbol that is used respectfully by
another group, then the people who support the use of the mascot are indeed
demonstrating what they feel is their superiority *as a group* over the
other. The question is, when does that equation hold? The answer is, when
the other group says so. In this case, some Native Americans are contending
that they equate the portrayal of this mascot with a continual display of
disrespect for the representative symbol of their group, and that this
equation is naturally strong enough to cause them distress. Some of the
mascot's supporters hold themselves to be the ultimate authorites on the
Native Americans' feelings, and insist that the Native Americans must be
mistaken in their feelings because there is no cause for distress, while
others of these mascot fans simply display their racial superiority by
ignoring the protests outright.

There are even those among them who, in making the argument for historical
continuity, contend that their mascot has become a racial symbol for them,
one which they treat with a respect equal to that of the Native Americans
for a more dignified symbol. In that sense, their argument is that their
mascot is not in fact a humiliating portrayal of a Native American, but
rather it is a respectful portrayal of their team's fans. These fans, as a
"race", don't want that mascot to be treated with disrespect (such as being
threatened with annihilation) any more than a Native American would want to
have their symbol threatened. The Native Americans, then, if they were to
get this mascot banned, would be displaying their racial superiority by
ignoring the protests of the fans.

This isn't just straw. It has been argued that Americans don't have a
culture so much as they share a common lack of a culture, and to that
degree, affiliations with schools, teams, and a long list of other communal
groups are likely to take the place of race/nation. Some of the fans no
doubt align themselves with this particular mascot in a rather casual
(impersonal) fashion, just as a strong personal equation with representative
racial symbols does not hold for all Native Americans, or for all of the
members of any group; however, there are obviously some for whom there is a
genuine personal equation which *they feel* is every bit as strong as that
felt by the Native Americans for their symbols. For obvious reasons, I'm not
going to argue that such a person is wrong about their feelings, neither
should those feelings be discounted merely on the basis of that group's
being a minority.

So, to the degree that there are people who feel strongly about the mascot,
and others who feel strongly about the representative symbol on which the
mascot was originally based, the issue is not so clear cut. For one side to
be given the power to disrespect the symbols held dear by the other would be
to disregard the authority of a group to protect its feelings of
self-respect. I get the impression from the discussion on the list that the
issue is being settled by identifying the mascot as derivative (and so loses
out to the figure on which it is based), but I'm not sure that such a
judgment is, in the end, anything other than arbitrary. I would welcome
further discussion on this point.

>and to characterize it as "racist" is to
>betray the common but unjustifiable habit of mischaracterizing an idea
>or action with a label that would, if correctly applied, mandate
>automatic condemnation.

So, if I follow the logical extension of your reasoning, now that the
idea/action *has* been appropriately characterized as "racist", the label
"racist" can be correctly applied, and it can mandate automatic
condemnation. As I am not automatically condemning support for the mascot,
it seems that the logical extension does not necessarily hold. That would be
because the mere application of a label does not require that I agree
wholesale with the implications of its application, likewise its denial or
removal. Having said that, I will agree with you that the application of a
label can lead to a poor first impression that some people, without regard
to their wisdom about such things in general, will not bother to correct,
even if more accurate portrayals are made readily available to them.

>That any member of an organization like the
>LSA is incapable of applying English words correctly is obviously

That is an inappropriately over-general evaluation, and an ill-mannered
insinuation, considering that it has been shown that *your* portrayal of the
use of the *one* word in question was manipulative; for example, you don't
see me suggesting that *you* are "incapable of applying English words
correctly" on the basis of one glaring inability to have done so, nor do I
sarcastically patronize you by casting suspicion on your education in
general by suggesting that your demonstrated inability is "obviously
surprising". Perhaps, however, I am misreading your response, and you did
not in fact intend to deliberately trying to humiliate someone whom you had
never met in front of his/her professional peers, in which case I would
appreciate your correcting me on the matter so I don't make the same
misinterpretation twice.

>What happened to semantics?

I feel that I was given to understand (in semantics classes) that the
meanings of words change over time, and so "cool" can mean "hot", and "bad"
can mean "good" can mean "wicked" and so on, and that a word like "pretty"
once used to mean "clever". I seem to recall that resolving the issue
according to historical dividing lines becomes increasingly more arbitrary
the closer one gets to the present day, at least insofar as one tries to
define a "standard" set of meanings for a closed set of words that will be
used to define a living language... French aside. :-) I get the impression
(perhaps a misimpression) from what you write that you are suggesting that
the study of semantics *at some point in recent history* was supposed to
support the notion that a word has only one standard meaning, and that to
use it in any other way is to show one's ignorance. What a moron Shakespeare
was, coining all those terms, and using all those words in unprecedented
ways, and yet expecting to be able to communicate.

Okay, I admit that I started to get out of line there, and I apologize for
giving in to the temptation to characterize your position as ridiculous, but
frankly, the tone of your response seems deliberately designed to cause
someone pain, and that deserves *some* ridicule. As I said, if I have
misread your tone, please correct me, otherwise you owe an apology to the
person whom you targetted with what seems to be venom.

> > Here's part of the text of the supporting statement published in
> > the March 2000 LSA Bulletin with the ballot, to show non-LSA readers
> > what the issue is:
> >
> > "There are two reasons for supporting [the resolution and
> >emotions],
> > a broad one and a more narrowly professional one. First, the
> >"Chief",
> > whose depiction is historically and culturally inaccurate as well as
> > anachronistic, has a negative impact on our efforts as educators to
> > make the public aware of the history and present situation of Native
> > Americans....
>If anyone thinks that students are forming academic
>opinions about Native Americans from the portrayal of the "Chief",
>that person has a very low opinion of students. What happened to
>reading a well-written book on the subject of native American dress,
>customs, and history --- if one is interested.

In the material a number of paragraphs above, you pointed out that an
invalid label will create a misimpression that people *will not* bother to
correct, and yet here you are suggesting that "students" as a class *will*
do so. On top of this, it should be pointed out that it doesn't take much
exposure to form a low opinion of someone. There is a growing body of
material on false attribution available in the social psych journals
addressing this issue; for example, rather than assuming that you wrote a
nasty response because you had had a particularly bad day, I might assume
something about your character *in general*. That's just one more good
reason not to attack someone in a response to the list.

> > "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. The "Chief" has a demonstrable negative effect on
>the quality of education that students at the University of Illinois
>receive. Non-Native LSA members who are affiliated with the
>university are also potential sufferers from the "Chief", given
>the strong negative reaction to the "Chief" by Native American
>students at the university.
>I wonder if the activists promoting such radical agenda realize how
>much hostility among non-native Americans is being generated by this
>supercilious hypersensitivity.

You can clarify a point for me here. On the one hand, you argue that this is
not an issue of actions that suggest feelings of (racial) superiority, and
yet on the other, you are arguing that the "non-Native Americans" are
disregarding the Native Americans' concerns as "supercilious

>Far from promoting understanding,
>by actions such as seeking to "outlaw" harmless traditional symbols
>of group fun such as the "Chief", such misbegotten iniatives
>foster feelings of antagonism and contempt where before there were

We have already established the fact that it is only harmless and fun to
show contempt for representative symbols which *other people* respect, and
not when they are disrespectful of dignified symbols with which we equate

On top of this, it might be noted that the issue of abolishing slavery
fostered "feelings of antagonism and contempt where before" the slaveholders
had felt none; in fact, there were slaveholders who argued that the slaves
were better off, or couldn't take care of themselves, or didn't have real
family groups, or otherwise disregarded the slaves' own characterizations of
their feelings on the matter. Would you support a mascot called (and I do
not intend this as humor) the Illinois "Slave"? Would such a portrayal be
harmless fun?

Now, you can substitute any racial slurs you like for "slave", and then, if
you can, try to defend the arbitrary difference between those words and
"chief"... and if you do so, please do not ignore the difference between in-
and out-group uses of the term, and the related issues of respect and trust.

By the way, I find it interesting that you can discount the Native
Americans' discontent in such a cavalier fashion, but decry any action that
might rouse "antagonism and contempt" among the mascot's fans. What makes
them immune to criticism? Why do we want to be so careful not to disturb
*them*, when their actions are harming others?

>I certainly hope the Illinois University
>System and Legislature will maintain their lack of interest for
>measures that will enflame passions rather than lead to

I would be interested to know what sort of understanding you are suggesting
might be reached. Please don't misiterpret this statement as if I were
suggesting that none could be, because that's not what I mean. I actually am
interested in what sort of understanding it is that you have in mind.

Personally, I think that it would be *nice* if people could recognize

1) People are being hurt by the existence of the mascot.


2) People would be hurt by the annihilation of the mascot.

It would then be *nice* if one or both of the two groups could then show
more concern for someone else's feelings than their own. That doesn't seem
likely to happen... and don't bother to respond with criticism about my
optimistic view of what I would like the world to be like.

So, cogent and detailed arguments in support of either group set carefully
aside, the whole issue comes down to who is hurting whom. It is almost
immaterial that the hurt is caused by displays of disrespect for either
group's representative symbols, given that this is only one symptom of a
disease that manifests itself in ways too numerous to mention (but which
includes unnecessarily angry responses on the list). I think that people
realize how difficult it would be to take on the disease wholesale, so they
want to take on high-profile symptoms, particularly when those symptoms seem
to fall within their domain. In the case of the LSA, this domain is symbolic

Having said all that, it seems like it would be better to lead by example,
and *hold* a confernce in Illinois in which the issue was addressed. Yes,
the LSA could -- in part -- host a forum which non-linguists from either
side of the issue were invited to attend. The LSA could foster the notion
that the *use* of language is the better means of ariving at a solution.
That would allow the LSA to give people the chance to correct their
misimpressions, and maybe help them to understand that there are *two*
aggrieved parties here (at least), and maybe this whole thing could be
settled peaceably, rather than having us demand to support the continuation
of the problem by refusing to associate with anyone involved (except, of
course, for the partisans belonging to the one side we have chosen to listen
to). In any case, providing a venue in which to talk about the problem seems
better than the deliberate building of a barrier *against* communication
that a boycott or ban or whatever represents. Of course, if anyone sees a
way in which boycotts (separating the sides) and talking (bringing the sides
together) can actually work together, I would be interested to know what it

- Trace
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Message 4: Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: 9 Apr 2000 13:49:02 EDT
From: Lotfi <>
Subject: Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

In her clarificatory statement, Margaret W. Reynolds, Executive
Director of the LSA writes:
> The motions and resolutions passed at the Annual Business Meeting
>over the years cover a variety of issues. They have addressed such
>topics as equal employment opportunity, deployment of nuclear
>systems, human rights in Iran, natural language research, the
>importance of scientific peer review, support for linguists in
>Central America and against US policies in Nicaragua, congratulating
>the Esperanto movement on the occasion of its 100th birthday,
>professional standards for doctoral dissertations on Native
>American languages, changing the dates of the Annual Meeting and
>opposing the English-only amendments.
I just want to say we Iranian linguists are so lucky that no politician
here (and most probably nowhere else either) cares much about the
political motions and resolutions LSA passes (to tell you the truth,
noone here even heard about LSA motion about human rights in Iran).
Else, doing such harmless things as drawing tree diagrams or transcrib-
ing sentences in IPA could cost us dear;-)
Ahmad R. Lotfi
Chair of English Dept.
Azad University at Khorasgan
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Message 5: Re: 11.807, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Sun, 9 Apr 2000 11:41:04 -0500
From: proto-language <>
Subject: Re: 11.807, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

> LINGUIST List: Vol-11-807. Sat Apr 8 2000. ISSN: 1068-4875.
> Subject: 11.807, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
 > -------------------------------- Message
1 -------------------------------
> Date: Sat, 08 Apr 2000 17:48:02 -0400
> From: "Waldemar Exkul" <>
> Subject: Re: Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
> Patrick Ryan--
> In your recent posting to LinguistList, you write:
> "That any member of an organization like the LSA is incapable of
> applying English words correctly is obviously surprising."
> This comment comes across as a bit impudent, especially in a message
> that begins with a sentence like this:

Dear Waldemar and Linguists:

> "The proposes of a professional organization are inunitably different
> from that of a political action committee."

> But I am more concerned by the substance of your comments than by
> their form. It is no abuse of the English language to describe as
> racist a symbol that perpetuates misleading stereotypes about a race
> of people. Furthermore, using a charicature of a people as a mascot is
> condescending in a way that suggests the "notion of racial
> superiority" that you consider an essential part of the proper meaning
> of the term 'racism'. To continue using such a mascot in the face of
> objections from the people thus charicatured is, at best, grossly
> insensitive and conveys a blithe disregard for Native American culture
> and history.

'proposes' for 'purposes' is simply a typo as I presume your 'charicature'
for 'caricature' and 'charicatured' for 'caricatured' are.

I think the bottom line here is that Scandinavians have never
protested against the use of the term 'Vikings', and sheepherders are
momentarily quiet on the subject of 'Rams'.

Secondly, Amerindians are not a 'race' in any scientific sense of the word.
At best, they are members of an ethnic type that shares a few superficial

Because a vocal group raises an objection does not certify the objection as
justified; and sensitivity that does not draw the line at accomodating
hysteria is counterproductive indeed.


 > Your own hostility is certainly evident. As for me, when I am told
> that something I thought of as a "harmless symbol of group fun" is for
> some people degrading and no fun at all, I react with contrition, not
> with antagnism and contempt.

I have no hostility towards any group of sensible people, including the
Amerindians as a whole, and chiefs among them as a part.

But I am concerned strongly about psychologically pathological
hypersensitivity that affects the 'pursuit of happiness' of ordinary



PATRICK C. RYAN | (501) 227-9947 * 9115 W. 34th
St. Little Rock, AR 72204-4441 USA WEBPAGES: PROTO-LANGUAGE: and PROTO-RELIGION: "Veit ek,
at ek hekk, vindga mei�i, n�tr allar n�u, geiri unda�r . . . a �eim mei�i er
mangi veit hvers hann af r�tum renn." (H�vamal 138)
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