LINGUIST List 15.2543

Tue Sep 14 2004

Disc: Final Posting: Open-Access Journals

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. Stephen Anderson, Re: 15.2354, Disc: New: Open-Access Journals/Ling Publishing
  2. Martin Haspelmath, Open-access publishing

Message 1: Re: 15.2354, Disc: New: Open-Access Journals/Ling Publishing

Date: Sat, 11 Sep 2004 15:52:58 +1200
From: Stephen Anderson <>
Subject: Re: 15.2354, Disc: New: Open-Access Journals/Ling Publishing


A consideration which I have not seen mentioned in this discussion so
far is the traditional link between print journals and professional
societies. This is something that the Executive Committee of the LSA
has discussed at length (though inconclusively) at some of its recent
meetings, and I would not like to see it pass unnoticed here.

Many notable print journals are published as the official organ of a
professional society, in the way Language is published as the journal
of the LSA. Such societies perform important functions for their
fields as a whole and for their members, but their most obvious
manifestation for many is the regular appearance of a journal. Events
such as the LSA Annual Meeting and the biennial Linguistic Institutes
are connected to membership in the LSA as well, of course, but in the
past, people have joined the LSA at least in large part (and for some,
solely) so as to receive the journal. The associated membership
revenue is what supports not only the publication of Language and the
LSA Bulletin but also the many other valuable activities of the LSA
and the LSA Secretariat in Washington, activities that are less
visible but vital to the place of Linguistics in the world of
scholarship and science.

To the extent linguists abandon the LSA because alternative forms of
publication make them less interested in receiving (and finding
bookshelf space for) Language, support for these other infrastructural
aspects of our profession shrinks as well. It is anything but obvious
what should be done about this, but we should all realize that it is a
real problem, and that it is tied closely (though not exclusively) to
the increasing availability of scholarly outlets other than standard
journals. It is also not exclusive to our field, but recent trends in
LSA membership suggest that it may be more acute in Linguistics than
in some other disciplines. 

- Stephen R. Anderson Professor of Linguistics, Psychology and
Cognitive Science Yale University
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Message 2: Open-access publishing

Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2004 05:04:19 -0400 (EDT)
From: Martin Haspelmath <>
Subject: Open-access publishing

Thanks to Dave Odden for providing some arguments in favor of
traditional limited-access print journal. All these need to be weighed
carefully by all of us. Let me respond to three of his arguments:

He says that publishers are not superfluous because:

> Someone has to physically produce the journal...; someone has to
> maintain the electronic version; someone has to disseminate the
> information that the journal exists and that there is a new
> issue. These are some of the services that the publisher provides,
> and they all cost money.

My claim is that with the new technologies, these services are now
better provided by the universities themselves, closer to the
scientists. Some of them, like archiving, are in fact ONLY provided by
universities and libraries -- publishers do not guarantee their
customers that an electronic journal that they bought will remain
accessible for decades. It is true that it will continue to cost money
to advertise a journal, but again with the new technologies, it is
unclear why this should be done by companies with shareholders who
don't care about scientific knowledge. I'm sure that most universities
will be extremely happy to subsidize the LINGUIST List if that allows
them to discontinue subscriptions of some Elsevier or Kluwer journals.

> Is there a robust multi-national, multi-server free access system
> for hosting linguistics journals, with good backups? Not as far as I
> am aware. None of these problems are completely insurmountable; but
> archiving a print journal is pretty trivial.

Print journals need library buildings, and these need a lot of space,
air conditioning 24 hours a day, staff members who check users' IDs,
and so on. That is all very familiar (at least to the older generation
of scholars), but hardly trivial. It costs a lot of money.

> First, if journals are to remain peer-reviewed, a proliferation of
> new journals will significantly increase demand on quality
> reviewers, who are already at a premium. Second, profession-external
> evaluation of journals is related to how scarce they are, so I have
> a counter-prediction that if electronic-only open access journals
> spread like wildfire, deans will assign little value to being an
> editor, will deny requests for release time for editors, and will be
> disinclined to provide support to yet another journal. ... The
> financial consequences of traditional journal production provide a
> natural brake on the unconstrained expansion of journals...

Dave's argument here is that journal prices help us in selecting the
journals that we need most. Of course, journal proliferation is a fact
even with print journals, we just don't notice it so much, because we
don't have access to most of them -- how many linguistics journals
from Thailand, Colombia, Nigeria or Ukraine does your library have?
But most of these are actually rather cheap, whereas our libraries
often hold on to expensive journals that are no longer important. So I
think that journal prices function extremely badly as selection

Instead, we'll simply rely on other indicators in making our
selection, such as the prestige of the editors, the perceived (or
measured) impact factor, and so on. This is still not perfect (as many
of us will miss some brilliant papers in some Brazilian or Taiwanese
open-access journals), but it makes more sense than selection by
price. Dave's dean will have to ask not just whether Dave is an
editor, but whether his journal stands out in some way. I'm sure that
the dean will have some way of finding out.

Martin Haspelmath
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