Guidelines? What guidelines?

Anders Eriksson

In 2004 a paper with the title «Guidelines for the use of language analysis in relation to questions of national origin in refugee cases» was published in the IJSLL. For reasons which are unclear to the present author it has in some circles received the status of guidelines for practitioners in the field.

In the call for papers Lingua 1), the scientific unit for linguistic analyses within the Swiss Federal office for Migration writes «In 2004, a group of linguists edited a set of Guidelines designed for all practitioners in this field. Its concern is to ensure and guarantee a sufficient quality level.» and the home page of the Taalstudio 2), a Dutch company performing language analysis, includes the following statement «Since June 2004, guidelines have been available for the use of Language Analysis to determine origin in asylum cases.»

There would be nothing remarkable about this if it were not for the fact that the document they refer to is not about guidelines for practitioners at all. This is explicitly stated by the authors: «The following guidelines are therefore intended to assist governments in assessing the general validity of language analysis». We are thus led to believe that the guidelines are not intended for practitioners but for government officials evaluating analyses already performed by others. But the text which follows does not live up to this promise. Much of the paper is a rather general treatise on language variation. There are also some remarks about what qualifications an analyst should have like «Language analysis must be done by qualified linguists» and «The expertise of native speakers is not the same as the expertise of linguists» and general observations like «Language analysis requires useful and reliable data». But there are no instructions as to how these requirements and observations may be used in an evaluation process. Assuming that the reader of the paper is a government official who has received a language analysis report and seeks advice on how to evaluate the report, it is difficult to see how these guidelines could be of much use. And as has been pointed out above, they are not even intended as guidelines for practitioners. I will therefore argue that from statements by analysts that their analyses are performed in accordance with the guidelines it is not possible to draw any definitive conclusions about what methods are actually used in the analyses. Reading the paper leaves the reader with at least two big questions. Why is this paper referred to as guidelines by practitioners? Have they been misled by the title?


Arends, J et al. (2004). Guidelines for the use of language analysis in relation to questions of national origin in refugee cases. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 11(2), 261–266.



Ultima modifica 24.11.2009

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