LINGUIST List 14.2301

Tue Sep 2 2003

Sum: Forms of Consent in Sociolinguistic Research

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Astrid Fiess, informed consent

Message 1: informed consent

Date: Tue, 02 Sep 2003 08:38:03 +0000
From: Astrid Fiess <>
Subject: informed consent

A short while ago I posted a question about the need for written
consent in sociolinguistic research (Linguist 14.2183). I was
overwhelmed by the massive amount of feedback. A lot of people
supplied me with comments, links and/or exemplary consent forms (I did
not paste the forms into this summary, but people's email addresses
are attached) and the whole discussion was very helpful. Thanks a lot
to everyone who answered!

Astrid Fie�


In general, written informed consent seems to be more important in
North America than it is in Europe, although the idea is catching on
here as well. The more sensitive and personal the information gathered
is (esp. medical or psychological research) the more important it is
to get written consent. Here are excerpts from the answers I got:

Andrea Osburne, Central Connecticut State University,

For those of us doing research in second language acquisition, these
forms and procedures often seem wildly inappropriate. Furthermore, the
excessively legalistic language is beyond the capacity of many
students of English as a Second Language and usually must be
simplified. Nevertheless, these forms have been instituted as a result
of documented abuses of subjects in medical research and have been
widely extended to most research of any type in the United States,
where human subjects (and federal subsidies) are involved.

Below I have pasted a sample consent form prepared by the Human
Studies Council at my university; the Human Studies Council oversees
all research on human subjects. If you would like more information,
you can go to our website at and type ''consent form'' or
''Human Studies Council'' in the search box.

If I may add something encouraging here, when I first began requiring
written rather than oral consent from subjects I was apprehensive that
they would be reluctant to participate (some, for example, might be
illegal immigrants, who are often wary of signing any documents
presented to them). I have found, however, that subjects take the
written consent procedure in stride.

- ------------------------------------------------------------
Peter Hendriks, Japan Centre ANU ACT 0200 AUSTRALIA, (

Good idea to have written consent forms to cover yourself. Many places
and universities around the world require that you go through the
'human ethics'process, and supply your consulants with information
forms and consent forms. As part of it you sometimes have to submit to
the ethics committee a list of the questions that you are going to

The ANU (where I teach) has a bunch of stuff here:

I have attached a couple of my forms for you to look at as well.

- ------------------------------------------------------------
Charley Rowe, Newcastle University (

The UK has something called the Data Protection Act (DPA), which you
can easily find on the web. Largely the DPA is concerned with your
anonymisation of the data you take, and the proper storage and
preservation of the data. They don't mention much about what a consent
form should look like, but it is certainly a good idea to have a
consent form for the record, even if it is one you make yourself for
the purpose of your study. If you are dealing with the Republic of
Ireland, of course, different laws may apply. It may not matter at any
rate, if you will not be *holding* the data in the Republic or in the
UK; if you hold the data in Germany, perhaps the Datenschutz is the
law to abide by. Either way, it seems that an appropriate consent
form is one that allows you maximum flexibility, and the subjects
maximum protection against their identity being revealed (or against
being able to be identified positively in any way by the data). The
more ''personal'' the data (addresses, sensitive topics, etc), the
more careful you need to be about gathering, storing, and reporting on
the data.

- ------------------------------------------------------------

Prof. Penelope Eckert, Stanford University

No publisher has ever asked me for evidence of subjects'
consent. They've never even asked for proof that my research has
undergone human subjects review. At any rate, US federal guidelines
for research involving human subjects allows for the waiver of signed
consent under certain circumstances, so requiring signed consent would
be unrealistic. I wouldn't worry about this if I were you, assuming
that you aren't identifying the speakers in your publication.

- ------------------------------------------------------------
Elizabeth J. Pyatt, Ph.D., Penn State University (

The U.S. has a long set of regulations about conducting research with
human subjects. Much of it applies for medical research, but
psychological studies are also bound by these regulations. The idea is
that subjects provide informed consent before participating. You may
also want make appropriate notes on confidentiality (or lack thereof)
and the fact that there is no physical pain involved (a true

Here is a page from a U.S. University talk about their regulations.

- ------------------------------------------------------------

Kimberly R. LeVelle, graduate student, Portland State University

Informed consent is very important, in fact we cannot even begin to do
our research with approval from a committee that we have followed
appropriate procedure and that our subjects have made an informed
decision, that the research is worth the possible risks (this is true
for sociological experiments and research too). Research is taken to
mean all gathering and interpretation of data collected, including
interviews, surveys, ethnographies, observations, just about
everything you can think of. It also including doing any new
interpretation of existing data- you have to file a new human subjects
approval form and have it authorized.
I've included a link to the file that has all of the human subjects
approval forms for my university and information. The file is in Adobe
Acrobat, which you'll need to download to read the file. If this
doesn't work for you, let me know and I can put important excerpts
into an email message.
I think the most important thing to realize is how important informed
consent is to American universities and publishers. A quick search
online showed at least 20 American universities, US governmental
sites, Canadian governmental sites, and major companies all with pages
about human subjects approval (that was on the first page!) There's a
lot a history behind our (American) strong feelings that it is
important. It arose from the Nuremburg trials after WWII and the
experimentation done on those held in camps. It became an important
issue, and I think is even UN law (although it might just be NATO)

- ------------------------------------------------------------
Dr. Anthea Fraser Gupta, University of Leeds (

This is now considered best practice in the UK too, and I imagine it
will be in Ireland. It results from recent changes in the copyright
law. The main reason for getting signatures is to ensure that you have
the copyright of your recordings and can use them in different ways in
years to come.

- ------------------------------------------------------------
Dr. Claus Dieter Pusch, Albert-Ludwigs-Universitaet Freiburg im Breisgau (

Die Frage wurde schon in unterschiedlichen linguistischen Newsgroups
diskutiert; ich glaube, dass Sie auch im LINGUIST-Archiv f�ndig
werden. Jedenfalls kam dabei grosso modo immer heraus, dass die
europ�ische Rechtslage sehr viel unklarer - oder, positiv gewendet:
unkomplizierter - ist als die nordamerikanische. Jedenfalls scheint es
keine Pflicht zu einem formalisiert-schriftlichen
Genehmigungsverfahren f�r die Verwendung von Interviewdaten f�r
wissenschaftliche Zwecke zu geben. In Deutschland ist mir nichts
derartiges bekannt. Ich habe selbst f�r meine Dissertation ausgiebig
Gebrauch von Interviewdaten und spontansprachlichen Tonaufnahmen
gemacht und bisher keine Probleme gehabt. Im Gegenteil: mancher
Informant hat sich gefreut, dass seine Sprachdaten publiziert
werden. Allerdings habe ich systematisch alle Eigennamen
anonymisiert. Weitergehende Anonymisierung (z.B. das Ersetzen von
Ortsnamen etc.) halte ich nicht f�r sinnvoll, da dadurch wichtige
Parameter, die f�r eine weitergehende Verwendung der publizierten
Daten durch Dritte von Nutzen sein k�nnten, maskiert werden.

- ------------------------------------------------------------

Jan Anderssen, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Bei uns verlangt die Uni, dass psycholinguistische Studien genehmigt
werden. Dazu wirde jede Studie von einem Kommittee �berpr�ft, und
meistens wird verlangt, dass Studienteilnehmer ein ''Informed Consent
Form'' unterschreiben. Einige Vorlagen dazu findest du unter Vermutlich ist f�r dich,
falls du dich entscheidest deine Versuchsteilnehmer so etwas
unterschreiben zu lassen, die ''No/Low Risk''-Vorlage am

- ------------------------------------------------------------

Shelley Tulloch, Saint Mary's University, Halifax

The following is a link to Canada's main funding organisation's
guidelines for obtaining ''free informed consent'', including what
that consent should look like. These guidelines are generally
practiced by Canadian sociolinguistic researchers, and are similar
(though not identical) to American standards.

I've also included a link to Saint Mary's University web-site, which
includes a sample written consent form (click on ''consent'' under
''REB forms''):

- ------------------------------------------------------------

Tadhg.O hIfearnain, Ph.D., University of Limerick

I think that a lot of the detailed new ethical rules are going too
far. They are rather made for the legal protection of universities
than to ensure that research is done in an ethical and responsible
way. [translation from the original mail in Irish]

- ------------------------------------------------------------

The following people also sent links or exemplary consent forms:

Galina Bolden, UCLA ( '' exemplary consent form

Prof. Peri Bhaskararao, Ph.D., ILCAA, Tokyo University of Foreign
Studies ( '' exemplary consent form

Dr. Pius ten Hacken, University of Wales Swansea
( '', 
British research council, section on research ethics
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