LINGUIST List 12.2321

Thu Sep 20 2001

Sum: Scientometrics of the LINGUIST

Editor for this issue: Richard John Harvey <>


  1. Victor Kuperman, Scientometrics of the LINGUIST

Message 1: Scientometrics of the LINGUIST

Date: Wed, 19 Sep 2001 20:32:45 -0700 (PDT)
From: Victor Kuperman <>
Subject: Scientometrics of the LINGUIST

Re: Linguist 12.2223

Scientometrics of the LINGUIST

Several days ago I posted the following question in

>I am an MA student at the Graduate School for Library and Information
>Studies, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I am currently involved
>in scientometric research of contributors' productivity in the
>Internet mailing lists. One of the major factors that allegedly shape
>scholars' productivity is the reward structure of modern
>science. Thus, scholars are said to be motivated to publicize their
>results via papers, monographs, patents, conference materials,
>research reports etc., since their academic standing and/or prestige
>benefits from this. What do you feel are the gains of contributing to
>mailing lists, such as the LINGUIST? How different/similar is
>publishing in the Internet mailing list as compared to publishing in
>other means of scholarly communication?

>These questions may remind one of the "Ethics of Web-Publishing"
>discussion held in the LINGUIST in May-June 2001, so a few words of
>differentiation are in due order. Please note that I am interested
>only in Internet mailing lists and publishing/posting behavior of
>their contributors, as opposed to e-journals, web-versions of printed
>journals, preprint collections etc. Ethical issues concern me only to
>the extent they propel or impede one's desire to participate in a
>mailing list. Again, I am interested to hear first-hand opinions on
>why people feel it necessary/contributing/beneficial to use such
>lists as a communication means.

Ahead of all, I wish to thank those who responded to my query, given
that a thematically similar discussion has taken place in the LINGUIST
quite recently. The bottom line of all responses seems to be that
participating in the LINGUIST:

- is NOT considered a means of strengthening 
one's academic standing,

- is rather a vital part of networking and informal scholarly
communication that allows for fast exchanging of opinions and facts,
getting familiar with others' research and current scope of problems,
and establishing professional and personal links.

- Prof. Roger Lass's reply suggests also that answering questions is
"part of what one might call 'scholarly duties'".

This feedback is important in at least one respect. Studies of
quantitative patterns in the outcome of scholars concur that the
distribution of authors' productivity (i.e. of number of
publications per author in a limited time span) is primarily shaped by
the reward structure of publishing and selection criteria applied to
publications (publication policy, censure, peer-viewers decisions
etc.). This has been tested for scholarly papers, monographs, and
patents. Statistically, the productivity distribution of messages in
the LINGUIST seems to be very close to that in above-mentioned media
of scholarly communications. At the same time, two major factors of
publishers' selectivity and publication benefits are obviously not
the same. Publication policy in the LINGUIST clearly differs from that
in any established printed or e-journal of linguistics: suffice is to
refer those interested to

Responses from LINGUIST subscribers supported my understanding that
"publish or perish" has little to do with mailing lists, and
motivations for writing to such list are more altruistic.

Several responses were sent both off-list and via the
LINGUIST. What follows are the excerpts:

Joan Beal writes: Certainly, for British academics, taking part in
discussions such as those on Linguist and indeed, conributing reviews,
has no standing whatsoever in terms of the evaluation of our output by
those who decide promotion or the standing of our universities and
departments in research 'league tables' (Research Assessment
Exercise). Taking part is either altruistic (a genuine wish to share
knowledge) or a form of 'networking', allowing us to make contact with
other researchers.

Mai Kuha: For me, participating in a professional mailing list has
practically nothing to do with prestige. It is more similar to
conversation than to publication. It allows me to be in on what
colleagues are thinking about right now, rather than months ago, when
the printing process for the latest book or journal issue got
started. Maybe even more important is the social or affiliative aspect
(even on a professional list) of identifying like-minded people and
sharing ideas with them, and the sense of participating in a

Roger Lass: You ask a really interesting question. From my point of
view, as a senior linguist who really doesn't have to worry about
publication (total = 11 books and c. 70 articles, & I'm in my 60s and
a full professor), I find that the older I get the more e-mail lists I
tend to be members of (though I don't contribute that much). There are
a number of reasons:

1. Keeping abreast, informally, of issues that arise in fields that
aren't mine, and sometimes getting interested, going to cited
articles, etc.

2. Answering questions that happen to fall into my own area of
expertise, as part of what one might call 'scholarly duties', I

3. Raising questions where the knowledge base is very scattered, and
there are all kinds of odd experts I don't know about. E.g. one
example: I was doing some work several years ago on whether certain
types of grammatical changes are unidirectional. There's no way I
could cover the histories of all language groups, so I posted a query
on linguist asking for examples of certain types of changes. I got a
lot of useful answers, from the histories of language families I
didn't know at all.

4. A kind of social purpose: sometimes I'll see a posting by somebody
I know but haven't seen in years, and will answer as a way of
re-establishing contact and saying hello.

5. Amusement, entertainment, etc. Since I tend to work almost
exclusively at home, I'll often read e-mail at odd hours, e.g. as an
andtidote to insomnia, or before bed.

6. As far as reward-structure, in linguistics at any rate either
contributing to e-groups or even posting papers on the Internet is
irrelevant. I'd never think of citing any such thing in my CV, nor
would anybody concerned with looking at my CV be interested. Such
activities are private and for one's own interest.

David Palfreyman: I am generally a lurker on LINGUIST, but at the same
time I am trying very hard to finish a journal article and publish a
collection of articles. I suppose this shows up my motivations:
LINGUIST (like local professional association newsletters, for
example) I see as a) a source of information and leads, and
b)occasional stimulus to reply, generally offlist (like this :-) ... I
don't think I really have any instrumental motivation to *contribute*
*to the list* (as opposed to reading, or responding to individual
authors). It's an interesting thought, though - thank you. I might
think of LINGUIST more in that way in future!

I wish to thank again all those who responded to my
Victor Kuperman 
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