LINGUIST List 6.1441

Tue Oct 17 1995

Disc: Self-censorship

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. "Jack Wiedrick", "self-censorship"
  2. Peter Daniels, Re: 6.1424, Disc: Self-censorship
  3. George Elgin, Suzette Haden Elgin, self-censorship
  4. Ted Harding, Re: Self-censorship on the list, Cheating?

Message 1: "self-censorship"

Date: Tue, 17 Oct 1995 12:36:13 "self-censorship"
From: "Jack Wiedrick" <WIED6480VARNEY.IDBSU.EDU>
Subject: "self-censorship"

 It appears that at least one person on the list has taken my
recent request for historical data sets as evidence that the list is
being abused, and that we therefore ought to have stricter
guidelines, etc., to prevent that sort of thing from happening
further. I feel that this is an unfair judgement, and I dislike very
much the reactionary feel of the attitudes that support this sort of
 First, the justification: I do not see in what way my request is
an abuse of the list. I wanted sets of data to practice on, but
found that the kinds of data one gets in textbooks and the like is
incomplete and superficial. I decided that I would like to have more
complete and copious data, but for my purposes I needed it organised.
So I thought that if anyone would know where I could find some
published data sets of that sort, experts in the field would. I don't
happen to live around any historical linguists, and I don't know of
any historical linguist counseling clinics where one could go for
such advice, so I took a chance that there might be a few on the list
who would be able to point me in the right direction in my search.
Let me reiterate that I was looking for already available, published
sets of data. I am not trying to complile one on my own (which would
be quite a little project), nor was I asking any linguists on the
list to do so for me. I wasn't even asking for them to send me such
a list. All I wanted were references which I could then go and get
myself. Perhaps it might have "done me good" to go to the library
myself and pour through journals, books, and the like in search of
such a thing, but I'm not aware of any LLBA heading like "Complete
and Accurate Data sets of Cognate Words in Related Languages for use
in Practising Comparative Reconstruction", and I really had no idea
where to start looking. Maybe I would have found something doing it
that way, but if the languages were unfamiliar to me, how would I
know whether the data could be counted on or not? What would take me
hours or days or weeks to accomplish imperfectly, it would take an
expert a few minutes of typing to do, and I could place some faith in
the expert's opinion on matters such as accuracy, etc. In short,
it's a reasonable request with a valid motive, and if I wouldn't
hesitate to ask an historical linguist in person, then why should I
hestitate to ask a community of them on the list?
 Now, the complaint: discouraging research on the list is
tantamount to information control. The tone to this kind of thinking
seems to be "We have the information and only WORTHY applicants shall
gain access, worthy, that is, by what we define as worthy." You have
to earn your stripes, so to speak, by suffering through years of
thankless book searches and fruitless hypotheses before you're
counted among the worthy. Until then, you don't get one "red cent"
of information that isn't coming to you. It supports those in power,
and, need I say it again?, the ones in power are the last people in
need of support. I have been enheartened by many of the responses to
this issue thus far, and I would encourage others to evaluate their
feelings critically and see what sort of establishment they're really

Jack Wiedrick

[Moderator's note: we try not to post messages that criticize
the actions, as opposed to the opinions, of anyone mentioned
by name. Unfortunately, the message about Mr. Wiedrick's request
slipped by us. For that reason, we are posting--as we ordinarily
would not--the preceding (and following) defense of his query.
However, we are not going to post any more messages about this query,
either pro or con, as we think this would only call attention to the
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Message 2: Re: 6.1424, Disc: Self-censorship

Date: Sun, 15 Oct 1995 09:24:14 Re: 6.1424, Disc: Self-censorship
From: Peter Daniels <>
Subject: Re: 6.1424, Disc: Self-censorship

[The comment made about J. Wiedrick's posting in Vol-6-1424]
seems an inappropriate contribution to the discussion
of cheating etc.

I replied to Mr. Wiedrick with two items of bibliography wherein
he could find comparative lists of Semitic vocabulary; in neither
case would he have been able to discover them by looking in a library
catalog. The reference librarian at his instutiton would no better
be able to find the information unless s/he were a specialist.
How is this a "cheating" request?
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Message 3: self-censorship

Date: Mon, 16 Oct 1995 13:31:21 self-censorship
From: George Elgin, Suzette Haden Elgin <>
Subject: self-censorship

I would like to second Mike Maxwell's caution that not everyone who knows
how to use a library has one readily available. I don't live in a
third-world country, but I live in the wilds of northwest Arkansas. The
nearest library that would have linguistics journals in its periodicals
section would not be in Fayetteville (a full hour away from me) but in
Little Rock or Tulsa ... four hours and three hours away, respectively.
The last time I tried to get anything through interlibrary loan, it took
more than two months. If I ask questions online (I promise not to ask,
"What is phonology?"), it's not because I'm too lazy to go do my own
research but because it's extremely difficult. Those of us not located at
or near universities where linguistics courses are taught find it hard to
keep up, and this list is a tremendous help.


Suzette Haden Elgin
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Message 4: Re: Self-censorship on the list, Cheating?

Date: Mon, 16 Oct 1995 22:55:22 Re: Self-censorship on the list, Cheating?
From: Ted Harding <>
Subject: Re: Self-censorship on the list, Cheating?

At Helen Dry's suggestion I'm forwarding to the list a response I
originally sent to her. Also, some extracts from her reply to me are

Best wishes to all,
Ted. (
- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
(Re: Self-censorship on the list, Cheating?)
Two situations have been identified, related by the theme of people
trying to get information easily and lazily and without either doing the
leg-work considered normal by serious researchers or making their own
intellectual effort to come to grips with a problem.

Though I'm not qualified to give anyone help in the domain of professional
linguistics, I encounter this on lists about things where I am qualified.

My reaction to this sort of situation is one of
a) Ignore it, and hope everyone else does;
b) If it looks as if the person might really benefit from some advice,
 give it: but in terms that require understanding, and bring home the
 realities of making one's own efforts (sometimes people are poorly
 served by their local institutions);

As far as the instances described go, I would tend to apply (a) to both.
I think John Kingston's careful discussion sums it up well, and serves to
highlight criteria for distinguishing between (a) and (b).

The situation described by Nick Reid looks like a clear case of (a) (but
what the Danes would call "et borgerligt ord" -- roughly, a stern word --
to the person posting the query might also be in place).

So I think the situation can best be met, not so much by censorship of
what gets posted, but by our reactions to it. (I'm not suggesting that
this is the duty of the moderators: it belongs to us all.)

Best wishes,
Ted. (
- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
It makes a very important point about the power of
contributors to control the level of discussion--a point
which was also inherent in John Kingston's remarks. If you've
still got a copy, let me urge you to post your message to the
list. I think it might be useful to have another well-reasoned message
implying that reader-reaction is the best test of the appropriateness
of a query since:

1) A few people seem to have been stung by this discussion,
apparently worrying that a query they posted might have been seen
as naive, so I'd like them to hear that if readers replied
interestedly to the query, then it was interesting. Period.

2) And also your message--like John's--helps take the heat off
Anthony & me! We're concerned that the level of the list remain
that of academic discussion useful to professional linguists.
But, in that regard, any censorship we might institute is far
less effective than the monitoring of the list by subscribers.

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