Dear NAACL members,

We recently released a survey asking the NAACL membership about their opinions regarding the possibility of changing the chapter’s current name “North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics” to a different name that is more inclusive of all parts of the Americas. In doing so, we received some questions about the possible justification behind such a name change. To better explain some of the arguments for this, several members of our community who reside or originate from the Americas outside of the US and Canada have written an open letter that explains some of the reasoning. I have attached this letter below; please take a look if you are interested, and fill out the survey if you have not already!

Graham Neubig
NAACL Board Chair

Click to read: Open letter: It's not just North America. NAACL and the path to include us.

It's not just North America. NAACL and the path to include us.

Our NAACL chapter has a long tradition of being the meeting point and union our our area. During its long history, we have managed to put our association and conference at the center of the latest advances in NLP and computational linguistics, gaining strong recognition. Canada and the United States have traditionally played a central role in the academic production of the chapter. However, in recent years, we have had an increasing presence of scientists from other countries in the Americas. In fact, as a recognition of the growing numbers and engagement from other countries in the American continent, the NAACL board updated its mandate to represent all of the Americas. Still, this update is not reflected in the name of the chapter or the acronym of the conference hosted by the chapter, which leads to a more fundamental question. Why have we restricted our chapter name and as a consequence, the conference acronym, to two or three countries? Latin America and other regions do not understand this unintended division. But let us give some context on how regional conceptions differ on this side of the world.

Americas, America, South and North?

This discussion arises from a cultural clash that makes it difficult to understand the vision of others. For most English-speaking countries, the landmass west of Europe and Africa, across the Atlantic Ocean, is divided into two continents: North and South America. Under this definition, the North includes all countries from Canada to Panama(including Central America and the Caribbean region). Under this definition Central America and the Caribbean regions are largely invisibilized. On the other hand, it might be natural to divide this land mass into cultural areas: Latin America, the Caribbean, and the North (only the USA and Canada). However, the existence of regions does not lead to the existence of different continents. In contrast, for Latin American countries, the term America is defined, understood, and used to refer to a single continent, with various regions, but without abrupt divisions. In fact, in Latin America, we consider everyone, from the north pole to the south pole of the American continent as Americans.

Our proposal

With the growing "southern" NLP scientific community becoming more integrated with ACL, we have started to ask: where is our place in ACL? The initial thought was that the North American Chapter (NAACL) would be the appropriate place to participate. From our integrationist perspective, where America is considered a continent and not just a country, we started working with the NAACL community. Fortunately, NAACL has been open and welcoming, and together we have established a mandate that includes Central and South America.

"The North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (NAACL) provides a regional focus for members of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL) in North America as well as in Central and South America, organizes annual conferences, promotes cooperation and information exchange among related scientific and professional societies, encourages and facilitates ACL membership by people and institutions in the Americas, and provides a source of information on regional activities for the ACL Executive Committee.” (link to NAACL Constitution)

Given our pleasant experience, working side by side with researchers from all regions, both in the organization of conferences and in the executive bodies, and that we want to increase further the participation from Latin American communities, we believe it is essential to take a significant step: to translate this mandate and continental unity into the name of our conference. Therefore, NAACL's name should reflect the diversity and encourage greater integration of all regions within what we consider the American continent.

Our goals are:

  • Include not only Canada and the USA with Latin America. We must also include the Caribbean region, and the indigenous nations.
  • Make all researchers in the Americas feel included and welcomed. NAACL has a mandate for the entire continent, and we aim to have this reflected in the name of our conference and organization.
  • We also want the North American countries to feel identified with the name.

Therefore, Pan American, American Continent, Nations of America, the Americas, are all options cast to achieve this objective. But each of these options also has its downsides: Panamerica has traditionally been related to regional hegemonic policies; America is confused with the identification of the US.

Of course, as has been expressed by other members, changing the name of our conference also carries risks. The most important, and one that has been constantly mentioned, is the value that the NAACL acronym carries, and the prestige it has earned. While this is an important factor to consider, it must also be remembered that other important conferences in nearby areas have changed their names with the idea of including communities (example: NIPS changed its name to NeurIPS, without losing its importance or reputation).

To conclude

In the survey that the NAACL board has published, we hope to hear the sentiment of the community. Its observations and inclinations. If we should change the name of the conference or not. If so, what the most viable alternatives for it are. We hope to be able to achieve the objective of integrating all members of our community, to make an inclusive space, and at the same time ensure the scientific excellence that has allowed us to be one of the top NLP and CL conferences.

Manuel Mager (Amazon)
Tiago Torrent (Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora | FrameNet Brasil)
Edgar Altszyler (Quantit | Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Luciana Benotti (Universidad Nacional de Córdoba | CONICET, Argentina)
Aiala Rosá (Universidad de la República, Uruguay)
Luis Chiruzzo (Universidad de la República, Uruguay)
Thamar Solorio (University of Houston | MBZUAI)