GERAS 40th international conference

21-23 March 2019

Université Panthéon-Assas – Paris 2


Ethics and specialised domains: the place, functions and forms of ethical considerations in specialised varieties of English

Specialised varieties of English have already been approached by researchers from a number of angles, but it seems that ethical considerations, and their place, functions and forms in the discourse of specialised communities have been under-investigated. Yet, a great many members of disciplinary or professional milieus ask themselves ethical questions about the organisation they work for, their responsibilities, their positioning or their relationships with society at large: whatever they do, they must be able to account for their decisions (Rawls 1987). Examples of such preoccupations are quite common today in such fields as legal ethics and the codes of conduct of the legal profession, ethical finance, business ethics, management ethics with the emergence of Chief Ethics Officers in the corporate world, in addition to journalistic, political and environmental ethics — not to mention medical ethics, bioethics, and ethics in science and the new technologies; as a result, ethics and deontology are often associated.

It is true that the current use of the word ‘ethics’ tends to stray from its original meaning, which may be regretted: it increasingly refers to professional or applied ethics (Badiou 1993). Nowadays the distinction between Aristotle’s ethics, with its teleological dimension (telos), and Kant’s moral theory, with its focus on duty (deon), has been blurred; still, some people do feel the need to distinguish between ethics — pertaining to individual rules that have been self-imposed after much questioning and meditating on what “a Good Life” really means — and morals, which are imposed from the outside and can be defined as the obligation to respect norms, heed constraints and play by the rules (Ricœur 1999). The mere idea that ‘morals’ might have a negative connotation linked with the notions of ‘requirement’ and ‘duty’ no doubt accounts for today’s preference for the term ‘ethics’: hence the confusion between individual, disciplinary, and professional ethics.  

Specialised discourse can yield a wealth of information for researchers since its analysis requires taking into consideration the communities that produce it, their own specific constraints and communicative purpose, in addition to the cultural, social, historical contexts in which discourse is produced. This conference will be an opportunity for researchers interested in discourse analysis to draw on specialised corpora in order to identify the linguistic or syntactic forms underpinning ethical considerations, or the preferred rhetorical tools used for conveying the appropriate message and reaching the desired goals. Linguists will be able to seek specific markers likely to determine whether the current interest for what is ‘ethically correct’ runs parallel with ‘politically correct’ concerns or even ‘greenwashing’ practices. Some claims about ethics may well be superficial. If so, what linguistic devices are used to support such deceptive attitudes, and how can they be detected in the discourse of specialised milieus? Special attention can also be paid to genre analysis: codes of conduct, charters and other documents meant to assert values, or define norms and rules will surely be of interest, and their specificity can be highlighted. For those interested in metaphors, the question of the potential impact of these tropes can be raised, in so far as the worldview they convey can influence the reader or targeted public. The choice of a metaphor is never innocent, in that it can guide people’s reactions and attitudes. As Christian Walter (2012) — when commenting on mathematical models in finance — insists, any metaphorical choice is potentially an ethical one.

The theme of the conference will also enable specialists of terminology to study the conceptual fuzziness of the term ‘ethics’ in specialised contexts, paying special attention to neighbouring concepts such as value, virtue, norm, morals, code, etc. in a given specialised field or sub-field, either on the synchronic or the diachronic axis. Studying conceptual networks, possible shifts in meaning, or neology-in-the-making, may also help researchers apprehend specialised milieus’ efforts to meet the requirements of society as far as ethics is concerned.

For translators of specialised discourse, the issue of ethics may be approached from a different angle, that of the consequences of the choices they make when translating a text, when trying to convey the original message without betraying its author’s intention, or failing to meet the requirements of their client. They may also reflect upon the amount of freedom translators can afford: how to combine such freedom with the duty to make sure that the targeted public has all the necessary tools and information to understand the message the original author meant to convey?
Researchers interested in the didactics of specialised varieties of English (SVEs)—and in sensitising would-be teachers and researchers to the specific culture of the relevant domains — are invited to choose among a number of questions pertaining to their strand of research with respect to the theme of the conference (RPPLSP/Cahiers de l’APLIUT 2013). For example, they may wonder about the legitimacy and efficiency of their teaching methodology, or explore the relationships between ethics, epistemology and pragmatics, from the perspective of either action or reflection (Le Moigne 2005). The theme can also be approached from the perspective of the ethical competency with which teachers should endow their students in the various branches of activities for which the latter have chosen to prepare. Another question worth investigating is the ethical problem raised when conducting action-research projects in terms of the researcher’s positioning: failure to take the right distance from one’s results might invalidate one’s research, not to mention situations when the research includes other researchers’ data (Macaire 2007).
Whatever the domain or the approach, researchers in specialised varieties of English will find food for thought in the unifying theme of this conference, reflecting on the place, functions and forms of ethical considerations in specialised discourse, cultures, and communities. It is to be hoped that the various suggestions mentioned here, to which many more may be added, will attract the interest of many researchers, inspire a rich array of approaches, and feed enriching debates.


Aristote. Éthique à Nicomaque. Trad. J. Tricot. Paris : Vrin, 1994.

Badiou, Alain. L’éthique. Essai sur la conscience du Mal. Paris : Hatier, 1993.

Kant, Emmanuel. Fondements de la métaphysique des mœurs. Trad. V. Delbos. Paris : Delagrave. 1985 [1976].

Le Moigne, Jean-Louis. « Les enjeux éthiques de la didactique des langues et des cultures n'appellent-ils pas un "nouveau discours sur la méthode des études de notre temps" ? », Études de linguistique appliquée (Ela), n° 140, 421-433, 2005/4.

Macaire, Dominique. « Didactique des langues et recherche-action. Recherches en Didactique des Langues et Cultures », Les Cahiers de l’ACEDLE, 2007/4, 93-119.

Rawls, John. Théorie de la justice. Trad. C. Audard, Paris : Le Seuil, 1987 [1971].

Ricœur, Paul. « Éthique et Morale ». Lectures tome 1, Autour du Politique, Paris : Le Seuil, 1999.

RPPLSP/Cahiers de l’APLIUT, numéro spécial « Quelle place pour l’éthique dans l’enseignement des langues de spécialité ? » n° 32 (2) 2013. <>

Walter, Christian. « Éthique et finance : le tournant performatif », Transversalités n° 124, 29-42, 2012.

Important dates for submission of abstracts and registration
  • Deadline for abstracts: November 15, 2018 (an Easychair link will be provided as soon as possible)
  • End of review process: December 20, 2018
  • Early bird registration deadline: January 15, 2019
  • Late registration deadline: February 15, 2019 

Registration fees:

GERAS members (membership fees duly paid)

  •  before  January 15, 2019: 45 euros
  •  after January 18, 2019: 90 euros
  •  student and retirees: 20 euros

Non-GERAS members: 90 euros