12. Linguistics as a community activity: The paradox of freedom through standards

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The Internet has given us a new playing field for global collaboration. It could transform the practice of linguistics through universal access to huge quantities of digital language documentation and description. But this transformation can happen only if certain aspects of community practice are formalized by defining and adhering to shared standards. After expanding on the vision for what linguistics could be like in the twenty-first century, this essay attempts to clarify the role of standards by considering two case studies of life with and without standards — using solar time versus standard time, and using language names versus language identifiers. The essay then develops two metaphors that seek to put standards in a positive light: “linguistics as community” and “development as freedom.” The ultimate conclusion is that only by submitting to the constraints of shared standards will the community be free to develop the riches of knowledge it is seeking.


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