American scientist

The question of how one overcomes these sorts of divisions, which affect who gets to speak for what, is a serious challenge in representative democracy.

I wanna comprehend the meaning of “for what”

Is it an anaphoric word that being used instead of saying the name of a particular person?

Could we paraphrase it this way “Who gets to speak for someone”?

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    Roughly, it's who gets to speak for their particular topic or area of advocacy/interest. – Livrecache Dec 11 '17 at 22:23

"What" doesn't stand in place of a particular person (or a generic person). If that was the case, the interviewee would have used "who" or "whom". For example:

In a representative democracy, it is clear who gets to speak for whom, but it is not always clear whether those speaking faithfully represent the interests of their constituency.

Because she used "what", the reference must be to some previously mentioned object or idea. In this case she's probably referring to things like bioethics or public values.

The general point she's trying to make is that that certain societies, with established institutions, have recognized authorities or spokespeople who can be consulted about things like the ethics/morality of experimenting on the human genome, but India does not.


The word what in the phrase for what there is intentionally not specific so that it may stand for any and all of the points of view, positions, interests, concerns, opinions, etc. that exist with this multidimensional issue.

Consider a scenario where a student group has a list of grievances it wants to bring to the attention of university administration. There's a meeting to discuss a planned protest in front of the main building. At the meeting, the leaders of the student group go over their grievances and decide who is going to say what.

That is, they decide which things will be said by which members, or which grievances will be presented by which members.

  • Thank you for this clear point. Is there any difference between “speak of and speak for? – Bavyan Yaldo Dec 12 '17 at 10:54
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    Yes, speak for X = speak on behalf of X, where X is either a constituency or the concern of a constituency. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 12 '17 at 10:57

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