LINGUIST List 11.975

Fri Apr 28 2000

Disc: Last Issue/Political Action/Ling Organizations

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. James L. Fidelholtz, Re: 11.928, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
  2. proto-language, Re: 11.928, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
  3. Dick Watson, Re: 11.945, Disc: Political action/linguistic organizations

Message 1: Re: 11.928, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Mon, 24 Apr 2000 13:45:08 -0500 (CDT)
From: James L. Fidelholtz <>
Subject: Re: 11.928, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

On Sun, 23 Apr 2000, Patrick Ryan "proto-language"
<> wrote:
>... And I think it is time for minorities, like the Amerindians, to
>identify themselves as Americans --- at which point the controversy becomes

Dear All:
	I should say that I am eternally grateful for the accident of
birth which made me an 'American' (this, of course, means 'U. S.
citizen'). It has benefitted me in a variety of ways, principally in
various kinds of convenience. Of course, it has also embarrassed me
in many ways at different times, and has even occasionally made me
proud. Speaking what I would call 'Standard Midwestern American', and
being a non-native speaker of Spanish, there is no way I can hide my
origins while speaking either Spanish or English. This is a source of
embarrassment when the US (or people in the US) have done one of the
things they do that irk so many others around the world (and even
within the US: see 'Chief Illiniwek').
	The point here is that, while I am happy to be an 'American',
and would not disguise that fact short of danger to life or limb, I am
*not* always proud. Being basically an optimist and an activist,
however, I would do what I think needs to be done to eliminate, as far
as possible, what I perceive as blemishes on the US, and
embarrassments to me, personally. This is why I support action by the
LSA in the Illinois case, quixotic as it may seem to some.
	What is not clear to me is why some seem to be trying to make
this problem into a semantic one. It is not. It is purely political.
I am almost prepared to admit that reasonable people could argue that
the LSA should not take political stands outside of language issues.
I would certainly consider them misguided, but possibly reasonable.
I, however, certainly do *not* take this view, and feel that the LSA
needs to take such political positions as its members approve, on such
issues as the membership deems worthy of approval (and probably on
many which it wouldn't, but that's what democracy is all about, and
unfortunately demagogy as well, but it is the nature of democracy to
have to suffer demagogy; fortunately, long-term the Vulgus is
intelligent and self-correcting).

James L. Fidelholtz			e-mail:
Posgrado en Ciencias del Lenguaje	tel.: +(52-2)229-5500 x5705
Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades	fax: +(01-2) 229-5681
Beneme'rita Universidad Auto'noma de Puebla, ME'XICO
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Message 2: Re: 11.928, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Mon, 24 Apr 2000 23:47:58 -0500
From: proto-language <>
Subject: Re: 11.928, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

> Subject: 11.928, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
> From: Claire Bowern <>

> I wasn't going to rise to the bait of such a letter, but if Pat wants us
> keep to linguistic issues, here's one for him.
> At 05:23 PM 04/8/00 +0000, Patrick Ryan wrote:
> > 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 completely disagree on the meaning of "racist". Both its legal, and I
> believe its common, definition involves not only racial superiority but
> racial denegration (to be a racist is to denegrate other cultures/races,
> not only to elevate one's own, and as we can see here, one does not
> necessarily always imply the other).

As for the idea of 'denigration', it seems to me to be oddly superfluous. If
one felt that one's race was superior, then obviously one would feel that
other races were inferior; and to label something as 'inferior' is to
'blacken' it, or denigrate it.

Suffice it to say that I believe the "Chief" is neither intended to
denigrate anyone or anything nor unintendedly denigrates.

A quick check of a dictionary or two
> confirmed my intuitions. The first attestation of the word appears to be
> 1936, when no doubt it was associated with ideas of racial superiority ...
> but there is such a thing as semantic change, much as it may offend Pat
> (who seems to describe it as a corruption of the English tongue).

I have written a separate response on the question of prescription which I
hope will overcome the one-week limit we have on this *related* question.


PATRICK C. RYAN | (501) 227-9947 * 9115 W. 34th

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Message 3: Re: 11.945, Disc: Political action/linguistic organizations

Date: Thu, 27 Apr 2000 12:01:53 -0400
From: Dick Watson <>
Subject: Re: 11.945, Disc: Political action/linguistic organizations


Right on, Michael. Let our professional organizations do what they were created
to do and let our political organizations do what they were created to do.

Dick Watson

>From: "Michael A. Covington" <>
>Subject: Disc.: Political action/linguistic organizations
> Ahmad Lotfi, in Iran, writes:
 | 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;-)
>Hear, hear! We must never forget that the LSA has *members* in a lot of 
>places with unsatisfactory governments -- people who live there permanently 
>and people doing fieldwork -- and when we condemn foreign regimes, we run 
>the risk of hindering people's professional activity or even endangering 
>And that was my original point about boycotting large portions of the 
>United States, too. The ERA and gay-rights boycotts picked out largely 
>the same set of states, a rather large set -- places where political 
>change proceeds relatively slowly (not, as sometimes caricatured, 
>places where people are evil). Linguists live in those states. 
>Linguists would like to be employed there. Is it our policy that we 
>will actively discourage linguists from living and working in places 
>whose politics is substantially different from that of New York and 
>California? Is our job market so good that we no longer need to serve 
>the whole country?
>Let's get back to being a *national*, even *international* society. 
>Successful international scientific organizations are apolitical.
>But in response to Sally Thomason's original proposal, if UIUC is 
>spreading a substantially incorrect image of Native Americans, we, as 
>professionals with special knowledge of Native Americans, have every 
>right to speak out. I just don't think we should go as far as boycott 
>Illinois. That would be an action directed against our friends and 
>colleagues rather than the people who are actually doing the harm.
 Michael A. Covington / AI Center / The University of Georgia <><
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