There’s been some recent discussion on a linguist mailing list about how to fill out an eTax form. Specifically, which profession to choose from the drop-down menu. One individual has written: 

Year after year I am annoyed by the fact that I don’t know what a linguist is to make of the drop-down menu in the software – you must have the same problem! Are you also wondering whether to call yourself a translator, a scientist (life sciences?), speech pathologist or a university lecturer if none of these actually fits? One somewhat feels tempted to just go with “officer”, though this is so much less exciting than (more citations) “dog racing judge”, “airworthiness surveyor”, or “powder monkey” (no joke).

The same individual wrote a complaint to the ATO which is partially reproduced here:

… puzzled by ATO’s comprehensive list of recognised professions while it fails to include professions of people who work with languages, such as “linguist” or “language professional/language consultant”. I am bemused to see that your job can be an archbishop or imam, bungy jump master, bingo caller or prostitute (with the generalisation of sex worker and specifications such as stripper, escort girl and brothel keeper), not to mention egg grader and TV announcer (how many are there in Australia?) – The department’s sense for detail must be admired! How could it be possible that when it comes to working with languages no profession is listed at all? I consider this pure ignorance and a surprising fact that a multicultural and multilingual society would fail to include individuals who deal with this diversity. In academic circles, linguists hold regular conferences and workshops, they join in professional associations and they run language-related services all over the country. No doubt everybody knows what an “otorhinolaryngologist” is (as listed in eTax) but at least “linguist” is easier to spell! In fact, I hope to find someone within the ATO who realises that working with languages is a productive part of our society. ….

Another commented:

At the risk of sounding terribly sanctimonious, I find this ignorance/prejudice may also be reflected somewhat in the Immigration’s Skilled Occupation List where working on (finger) nails, making shoes (when I’d imagine all shoes are imported), cakes or guns has more value than the work we do. Just how many more nails, cakes and guns do we need?

Needless to say, others on the list were quite happy to be ignored entirely by the ATO. But I leave the last word to Bill Poser:

It seems a reasonable inference that if the tax people do not list “linguist” as an occupation, it is not intended that linguists should pay tax. But that may not be what the ATO has in mind.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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