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Ethics Guidelines

The following guidelines are binding on all members of the department. They cover relations between the fieldworker and native speakers of languages under investigation and / or the communities in which those languages are spoken. They do not cover the following aspects that might nonetheless be relevant to the work of the department but which should be covered elsewhere: 

  1. Matters relating to scientific plagiarism and falsification. These are covered by the Max Planck Society's publication Rules of Good Scientific Practice / Rules of Procedure in Cases of Suspected Scientific Misconduct.
  2. Matters relating to the collection of genetic samples. Where members of the department are involved in the collection of genetic samples, the ethics policies of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics must be followed. Researchers should note, with respect to point 1 below, that additional official permission to collect genetic samples will be needed in many parts of the world, in addition to permission to conduct linguistic work.
  3. Matters relating to work with children. The policies set out below must be followed as far as possible in relation to work with children, but other ethical issues relating specifically to the status of children must be taken into account, including but not restricted to the need to obtain the consent of their parents / guardian(s).

Members of the department are required to adhere to the highest ethical standards in their research. In particular, they must show respect for the individuals, communities, and cultures with which they work. The following are designed to implement this general recommendation more specifically. 

  1. Members of the department must comply with all legal requirements for the conduct of their research in the relevant area. This includes but is not restricted to obtaining necessary visas, residence permits, and research permits, from both national and local authorities, and complying with requirements on the collection and dissemination of materials.
  2. Members of the department must ensure that they have the informed consent of the individual(s) and community(ies) concerned to carry out the research in question and to disseminate the results of that research. In this connection, it is essential to note that consent must be informed. In particular, explanation must be given of the uses to which the material will or might be put and of the access that will or might be made available to the material. Under appropriate circumstances, individuals or communities may place restrictions on the use or accessibility of material, and such restrictions must be adhered to. Researchers will often have to rely on their own judgements as to which individuals or communities must be asked for their consent, but such judgements should be formed in a responsible and accountable manner. Researchers should note that informed consent may need to be obtained not only from the source of material (e.g. the narrator of a story) but also from others who are affected by that material (for instance, persons who are mentioned in the story). Under no circumstances should individuals or communities be subjected to coercion to give their consent; researchers will need to be sensitive to local circumstances in this respect.
  3. The agreement between the researcher and the individuals / communities involved in the research must be documentable, i.e. if a question arises as to the validity of the agreement the researcher must be able to produce evidence of that agreement. In some cultures and circumstances a written agreement will be appropriate, whereas in other cases some form other than a written agreement will be needed.
  4. Especially given the increasing importance of intellectual and cultural property rights, individuals or communities participating in research should be informed that the institute and the researcher seek the right to store, use, and disseminate (with restrictions where appropriate) the material in question, but do not assert ownership of the intellectual or cultural materials entrusted to the institute or the researcher. When stored and disseminated, such materials should always make due acknowledgement to their authors and performers. Authors / performers should be named explicitly only where their informed consent to this has been obtained; otherwise, an anonymous acknowledgement is appropriate. It is appropriate for the researcher to pay the individuals involved in research for their time and travel and other out-of-pocket expenses. It is not appropriate to make payments that might be construed as payments for the transfer of ownership.
  5. Members of the department must, wherever possible, ensure that they contribute to the communities in which they work. Exceptions to this policy can only be considered in truly unusual circumstances where implementation of the policy is impossible, and such exceptions require detailed justification and the approval of the department director. Contributions to the community would include but not be restricted to: 
    1. documentation of the language in a way that is accessible to the community, for instance through the preparation of primers or printed or audio-recorded collections of traditional stories;
    2. development of a writing system for the language;
    3. training of members of the community in appropriate ways, for instance in text transcription, linguistic analysis, literacy, audio and video recording.