LINGUIST List 6.1393

Wed Oct 11 1995

Disc: Self-censorship

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. "David M. W. Powers", Re: 6.1373, Disc: Self-censorship on the list, Cheating?
  2. John Coleman, Re: 6.1373, Disc: Self-censorship on the list, Cheating?
  3. , Self-censorship, boolean-search subscriptions

Message 1: Re: 6.1373, Disc: Self-censorship on the list, Cheating?

Date: Mon, 09 Oct 1995 16:22:47 Re: 6.1373, Disc: Self-censorship on the list, Cheating?
From: "David M. W. Powers" <>
Subject: Re: 6.1373, Disc: Self-censorship on the list, Cheating?

The postings on self-censorship and cheating are interesting. I
respond with some personal comments, in line with the style of the
original postings, about the role I see Linguist as playing in my

> I have noticed over the past year an increase in the number of
> posts to the list of the form,
> "I am interested in finding out about X. Can anyone out there tell
> me how to?
> where X is some language or property or other of languages. What
> I find objectionable about many of these queries is that they could
> be answered by simply going to the nearest library; that is, the
> special expertise of subscribers to the list is not necessary in
> order to find out the answers to many of these questions.

This assumes that we do have access to a library which is uptodate in
the areas I might be interested in chasing up. Many of the journals
relevant to questions I'm interested in are not available at my university,
nor in many case in this state, nor in some cases in this country.
With an explosion of journals, with more researchers active than ever,
with more diversification and specialization than ever, we must embrace
modern computer technology. I subscribe personally to journals,
which my institution does not subscribe to, but I can't keep up with
Nor can the citation indices.

When I can track down information on a subject is it likely to be from a
single dominant perspective as of the time of publication (which is
to be several years ago). The LIST medium allows me access to opinions
and insights beyond what would make a formally refereed publication, and
in a much more timely frame. I not only get the dominant perspective,
the rogue perspective, the up-and-coming alternative perspectives, the
half-baked ideas.

Most of the queries I see on Linguist seem reasonable to me. The
contributions I make are made in the belief that I have a sensible
contribution to make, and may be in the context of my particular
expertize or my general background in the area. The breadth of
different people's contributions, as well as my own contributions, are
important to me because I have a different perspective from others -
really everyone has a unique perspective.

I am interested in finding people that are interested in the same
problems as I, or who are exploring problems which I have not the time
to be directly interested in - but which I like to monitor as they
should be or might be relevant to my research. I have learnt a lot
from the Linguist list, although I take it with a grain of salt - of
course with most linguistic publications in the library I need a
cellarful! The Linguist format with the many contributions tends to
compensate for bias and ignorance of the individuals in a way that is
possible in few journals (Behavioural and Brain Sciences is an
important exception). But Linguist is timely.

> Even worse, from summaries and ensuing discussion of the
> responses I've seen, I fear that people posting these queries
> actually treat the responses they get from subscribers as
> sufficient answers to their questions, rather than as a stimulus to
> genuine research in such traditional settings as libraries. The
> virtue of the information sources available in these more
> traditional settings is that they presumably have been vetted for
> accuracy and completeness, a virtue unattainable for posts to the
> list.

In fact, I am impressed with the way useful bibliographies come together
quickly as part of a summary, in many cases. I can follow up in a more
traditional way if I want to or need to.

On the other hand, I believe some cautions are necessary. I have a
good mail reader on a fast machine and can skip through things quickly.
 The chaff messages don't get read, the queries only get scanned if a
keyword in the subject grabs my attention. The summaries I'm
interested in get scanned. I'm very busy, but I find linguist a useful
investment of time. I don't tend to respond to the "beginner"
questions unless they relate to my special area of interest (language
learning and computer models thereof), but in those cases I am only to
pleased to help someone who is interested in the area which I have made
my life's work. Sending a reference is easy if I happen to have read
something relevant recently, but trying to help a beginner in an area
completely outside of my expertise may do more harm than good.

But a specific caution relates to doing language usage surveys on
linguist. Such surveys are most valuable if they are done of
linguistically naive individuals, and we are simply the wrong target
audience. On the other our specialist insights may be particularly
useful to those engaged in such surveys, because our putative insights
may help them in their analysis or reformulation of the survey - or
simply alert them to a larger range of views than they were aware of.
I'd like to hear from some of those who have put up surveys on what
role they play in their research.

One problem with email is that it is impossible to know the status of
the person posting - I periodically have to deal with chain letters,
petitions, etc. that have originated from undergraduates, but just give
a departmental and university affiliation, and which have then been
promulgated around the world by all casts. These are illegal, in
general, and proper petitions should state credentials - and should be

With undergraduates participating in the list, asking questions and
including discussion, I have no objection. In fact, we teach our
undergraduates to make effective use of the internet resources.

With regard to "cheating" or blatant breaches of Netiquette, I think
the moderators do a good job of weeding out such things, and we have a
responsibility to make it clear what we as academics expect of students.
At this university, at the start of each topic a handout is given out
on what is regarded as plagiarism in the topic and how it will be
treated. (The precise handout varies by department, and possibly
further by topic.)
The definitions should clearly cover illegitimate access to other
students, past or present, and academics, local or remote. Some
students seem to have a real problem with the concept of legitimate and
illegitimate "research methods".

I am aware of several cases where assignment questions have been
but presumably only the ones that have been caught. We seem to get
many of these unknown language questions coming up, and it is important
that the legitimate ones make the origin, context and purpose clear.
On the other hand, for the purpose of getting started with a literature
review, using Linguist seems to me to be fair play. But those setting
the work would do well to monitor the list for relevant summaries and
check for correct attribution of any references or "quotes".

This problem is not unique to Linguist. e.g. I have seen programming
questions come up in the comp.* newsgroups, and other venues. It is
appropriate for FAQs to suggest responding to suspicious queries with a
question about the origin, context and purpose of the question, before
simply responding with the answer.
Tracking down a supervisor or the status of a person can often be done
quickly with finger loginsite, finger site and if necessary mail
A note or cc to the list moderator might also be in order.


Associate Professor David Powers
	SIGART Editor; SIGNLL President		Facsimile: +61-8-201-3626
Department of Computer Science			UniOffice: +61-8-201-3663
The Flinders University of South Australia	Secretary: +61-8-201-2662
GPO Box 2100, Adelaide	South Australia 5001	HomePhone: +61-8-357-4220
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Message 2: Re: 6.1373, Disc: Self-censorship on the list, Cheating?

Date: Mon, 09 Oct 1995 14:17:21 Re: 6.1373, Disc: Self-censorship on the list, Cheating?
From: John Coleman <>
Subject: Re: 6.1373, Disc: Self-censorship on the list, Cheating?

I have a suggestion to discourage use of this list for
cheating or getting others to do one's research properly:
requests for assistance should make clear the purposes
for which the information is requested, or otherwise
not be posted. This does not prevent cheats who are
also liars, but it might help to improve things.

- - John Coleman
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Message 3: Self-censorship, boolean-search subscriptions

Date: Mon, 09 Oct 1995 11:17:00 Self-censorship, boolean-search subscriptions
From: <>
Subject: Self-censorship, boolean-search subscriptions

First, enormous appreciation to the moderators of LINGUIST for their hard
work. Nothing in the following it to be taken as critical of them. It is
simply a response to the general question of what can make the list most
useful to a large range of users.

(1) Fishing expeditions.
I strongly agree with John Kingston's comments recently under the heading
"self-censorship", concerning Inquiries (Questions) which are really fishing
expeditions for help instead of the inquirer doing library work or such.
 Perhaps the term "self-censorship" might be more appropriately replaced by
"graciousness, politeness, respect for others on the list, self-restraint" or
something like that. "Self-censorship" has other connotations not intended

First two (not very good) suggestions restricted to the matter of QQ queries
to the list. See rather the next two parts of this message for better

It could perhaps be a requirement of any QQ to be submitted to LINGUIST that
they commence with a one-line statement somewhat like the following.
"I have spent X hours in library searches and would now like additional

Another possibility is that the QQ category be subdivided into elementary and
advanced QQ. Access to the elementary QQ list could be unrestricted, and
subscribers would not be compelled to receive these messages.
- --------------------------------------
(2) Topic-subdivided subscriptions
The LINGUIST list has a gigantic subscriber base. Subscribers have a wide
range of interests, overlapping like Venn diagrams in many different ways.
 If a number of core interest areas could be identified, subscribers could
then tailor their subscriptions to the range of topics which suit them.
 Software handling the list could easily send only messages in the desired
topic ranges to the appropriate subscribers. Incoming messages which did not
specify their topic could be automatically returned to the sender with a
message requesting a topic choice. I am personally familiar with a smaller
non-moderated list (AZTLAN for Mesoamerican concerns) which does this fairly
well, except that messages not topic-labeled are not returned to the senders.
 What would the topic choices be for LINGUIST? Here are a few
suggestions (but I have not put much time into this, as others can do it much
African, Indic, SEAsian, EAsian, MidEast, Eur, Arctic, Northam, Mesoam,
Others: Jobs, QQ(elementary), General(sociology or economics of the field of
Linguistics, etc.).
Notice that Conferences, Calls, FYI, TOC, Book reviews, and advanced QQ do
not appear as major topic headings above. Such messages would be placed
WITHIN the particular content areas, since those interested in them would
normally be interested because of their content topics. The moderators of
the list already do this to some degree when they group book reviews or
announcements by topics (syntax vs. phonology for example).
 With more sophisticated software, messages could be received with TWO
topic labels, one for content (African or Morphology) and one for mode (Book
review, Conference, Summary, Question, etc.). Then subscribers could specify
wanting to receive all book reviews, whatever the content area (a more
unusual set of interests, I should think). A message could be specified for
two content areas (African Morphology), yet only one copy of the message be
sent to subscribers who were interested in both. That is now what happens on
the AZTLAN network (using the Listserv software to do this). Subscriptions
thus can gradually approximate a boolean search on keywords. That surely is
a goal? How far can we move in that direction?
- --------------------------------------
(3) Excess headers.
A matter which has long concerned me is the administrative overhead of
messages received from LINGUIST, that is, the lengthy and duplicate headers
of many messages, and the fact that the contents of messages often cannot be
seen in the truncated titles. This has consequences for transmission time,
search time, waste of paper in printing, etc. etc. Suggestions:

(a) Include fewer distinct topics per message, so that even the truncated
subject titles are more revealing. Then the subscriber will miss less and
will spend less time finding what they ARE interested in, and will read less
which they are NOT interested in.

(b) When more than one Q etc. is included per message, the listing of the
parts appearing at the beginning can be reduced to one line per sub-message,
consisting of the informative subject heading only, with no blank lines
between them. This will remove some 20 or 30 lines from many messages.

(c) Drastically shorten the general intro material which prefaces each
message. Only the parts should be included which are necessary for
graciousness and politeness towards fellow list users. Following two
 (i) Conference announcements must be no longer than X lines.
 Registration and detailed travel information should be sent only
individually to those specifically requesting it. (The list owners can
substitute a generic statement to contact the message sender for the excess
part of those conference announcements which do not follow this guideline.)
 (ii) Answers to Queries should be sent ONLY to the individual asking the
question. If there is enough response to be of general interest, the
individual can post a summary of responses.
 (This point could be promoted by another software device: The Return
Address or Reply Address for Queries could be set to the individual
originator only, rather than as the LIST address. Then "Reply to sender"
buttons in email software will not cause messages to be sent to the entire
list. )
 (One way to handle this even more easily, especially for elementary QQ,
is to have the elementary QQ be a separate email list, non-moderated, so
anyone can post a question and the originator will be the reply address
without any special effort by moderators.)
- ------------
Those are just a few suggestions.

Lloyd Anderson
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