Transcriptivism: An ethical framework for modern linguistics

Tyler Kibbey


Descriptivism is a methodologically efficacious framework in the discipline of linguistics. However, it categorically fails to explicitly account for the moral responsibilities of linguists, as moral agents. In so doing, descriptivism has been used as a justification for indifference to instances and systems of linguistic violence, among other moral shortcomings. Specifically, many guidelines for descriptive ethics stipulate that a linguist “do no harm” but do not necessarily require the linguist to prevent harm or mitigate systems of violence. In this paper, I delineate an ethical framework, transcriptivism, which is distinct from research ethics and covers the line of philosophical inquiry related to questions of the moral agency of linguists and their moral responsibility. The potential for this new framework is demonstrated through a case study of conflicting Tennessee language ideologies regarding gender-neutral pronoun usage as well as an analysis of misgendering as an act of linguistic violence.


ethics; LGBTQ+; research; morality; linguistics; philosophy; violence

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Copyright (c) 2019 Tyler Everett Kibbey

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