by Tony McEnery and Andrew Hardie; published by Cambridge University Press, 2012

Ethics and corpus users

Some ethical issues for corpus users are specific to particular fields, for example forensic linguistics (Coulthard and Johnson 2007), an area where corpus data and techniques are utilised (see McEnery et al. 2006: 116-20). In forensic linguistics the analystís choices have very serious outcomes: somebody may be sent to prison unjustly, or a guilty person may walk free. In such a situation it is critical to think very carefully about how credible and reliable the analysis is. We might normally be prepared to accept the possibility of error in an analysis. But in forensic linguistics this approach to the data would be cavalier in the extreme, given the very high, very real stakes involved.

Another problem that a corpus user faces is that an analyst cannot be sure how their results will be interpreted by others. This is most serious when results are misinterpreted – and the misinterpretation widely disseminated – by the mass media. The press is notoriously poor at accurately reporting on scientific research (see Goldacre 2008 for many examples). Of course, linguistics is not nearly so often the focus of press interest as the physical sciences. But it would be foolish to imagine that corpus linguistic research is safe from media misinterpretation.


This page was last modified on Monday 16 April 2012 at 10:09 am.

Tony McEnery Andrew Hardie

Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University, United Kingdom