Slides of Research Ethics Talk in JNU / Delhi

Extending Experimental Linguistics to Under-Researched Languages and Populations – The Principle of Justice and New Ethical Challenges (click to download pdf)

The majority of experimental studies in linguistics, psychology, and the social sciences involve participants who are undergraduate students in research-active universities or children of educated families in societies that are WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic; see Henrichs et al. 2010). This leads to claims about universals of human language and behaviour that are not based on an appropriate empirical basis. It also violates the Principle of Justice as many populations are excluded from such studies and their benefits, for instance the development of appropriate materials for teaching or speech and language therapy. Hence, more and more experimental linguists have started to study previously under-researched languages and populations; and we are providing resources and information to support such projects (https://experimentalfieldlinguistics.wordpress.com/).
These projects pose a broad range of ethical challenges. Some of them are challenges that any “traditional” linguistic fieldworker has to face, for instance avoiding coercion and guaranteeing informed consent when dealing with communities that are poor and characterised by low levels of education. However, the introduction of experimental methods into fieldwork contexts also gives rise to new ethical problems. In particular, we will discuss ethical issues that arise when standardized tests of performance (e.g. IQ-tests or tests of working memory) are carried out in small, close-knit communities where native speakers from the same community may become involved in the analysis of such data. We will also discuss (i) problems caused by data sharing in cross-linguistic and cross-cultural studies and (ii) conflicts that can occur when inter-disciplinary studies require ethical approval from boards with members from different disciplines (e.g. medical sciences, linguistics, psychology, and anthropology).

Keywords: linguistics, justice, psycholinguistics, experiments, ethics

Talk in Tromso, CASTLE Research Institute

Psycholinguistic research on under-researched languages-A case study on the processing of noun derivations in the Bantu language Setswana.

Naledi Kgolo and Sonja Eisenbeiss, University of Essex

Up until recently, psycholinguistic studies tended to rely almost exclusively on participants from societies that are WEIRD, i.e. “Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic” (Jaeger and Norcliffe, 2009; Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan, 2010 and responses to this target article). Moreover, the majority of participants in these studies were (i) undergraduate students of research universities in these societies or (ii) children from comparatively wealthy and educated families. However, recently, many psycholinguists, psychologists, and social scientists have tried to make their studies “less weird”. These efforts have given rise to ethical and methodological challenges as psycholinguists who study an under-researched language cannot rely on their usual “tools of the trade”, such as lexical databases or culturally appropriate picture databases with naming norms. In response to this, we have started to put together resources for psycholinguists and linguistic fieldworkers who want to conduct experiments with speakers of under-researched languages or work in situations where they cannot rely on a laboratory with proprietary software, expensive equipment, and an easily accessible pool of participants (https://experimentalfieldlinguistics.wordpress.com/).

In this talk, we will discuss the opportunities and challenges that arise for these “experimental field linguists” and present a case study on morphological processing in Setswana. Our study contributes to the ongoing debate about the role of morphological structure in language processing. In this debate, some psycholinguists argue that the morphological structure of a complex word like neat-ness plays a role in processing, while others try to reduce any “morphological” effects observed in psycholinguistic studies to effects of the fact that forms like neat and neatnessshare formal and semantic properties (see Feldman, 2000; Gonnerman et al., 2007 for overviews). The majority of these studies have focused on inflected forms in Indo-European languages; and there is comparatively little research on derivation as it is rather limited in the languages that have been studied so far. This is not the case for Setswana, a Bantu language of southern Africa, which has a productive noun-derivation system. We will report results from a series of reaction-time experiments that provide evidence for the role of morphological structure in language processing.

Talk at Ethics Conference

I am presenting a talk at the 2ND ANNUAL NATIONAL CONVENTION ON ETHICS IN RESEARCH ON HUMAN SUBJECTS: EVOLVING NORMS AND GUIDELINES FOR THE INDIAN CONTEXT http://www.jnu.ac.in/Conference/2nd%20National%20Convention%20on%20Ethics.pdf

Extending Experimental Linguistics to Under-Researched Languages and Populations – The Principle of Justice and New Ethical Challenges

Abstract

The majority of experimental studies in linguistics, psychology, and the social sciences involve participants who are undergraduate students in research-active universities or children of educated families in societies that are WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic; see Henrichs et al. 2010). This leads to claims about universals of human language and behaviour that are not based on an appropriate empirical basis. It also violates the Principle of Justice as many populations are excluded from such studies and their benefits, for instance the development of appropriate materials for teaching or speech and language therapy. Hence, more and more experimental linguists have started to study previously under-researched languages and populations; and we are providing resources and information to support such projects (https://experimentalfieldlinguistics.wordpress.com/).
These projects pose a broad range of ethical challenges. Some of them are challenges that any “traditional” linguistic fieldworker has to face, for instance avoiding coercion and guaranteeing informed consent when dealing with communities that are poor and characterised by low levels of education. However, the introduction of experimental methods into fieldwork contexts also gives rise to new ethical problems. In particular, we will discuss ethical issues that arise when standardized tests of performance (e.g. IQ-tests or tests of working memory) are carried out in small, close-knit communities where native speakers from the same community may become involved in the analysis of such data. We will also discuss (i) problems caused by data sharing in cross-linguistic and cross-cultural studies and (ii) conflicts that can occur when inter-disciplinary studies require ethical approval from boards with members from different disciplines (e.g. medical sciences, linguistics, psychology, and anthropology).

Keywords: linguistics, justice, psycholinguistics, experiments, ethics