LINGUIST List 7.1016

Thu Jul 11 1996

Sum: Journal proliferation: pro & con

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. Martin Haspelmath, Sum: journal proliferation: pro & con

Message 1: Sum: journal proliferation: pro & con

Date: Thu, 11 Jul 1996 16:12:28 +0200
From: Martin Haspelmath <>
Subject: Sum: journal proliferation: pro & con
A while ago I posted a remark on the recent proliferation of new
journals in linguistics. I asked whether this was a healthy trend,
given the limitations of library budgets and the danger of dilution of

I got a number of responses, which I'd like to share with LINGUIST
readers because I found some of the arguments interesting.

Some people agreed with my skeptical tone, pointing to the need for
quality control and to shrinking library budgets (Chungmin Lee
<>, Ian Crookston <>, Gary
Toops <>).

Inevitably, there was someone predicting that in five years or so, all
journals will be online, so the question of costs will disappear for
those with access to the Web (<>).

Marjory Meechan <> looks at it from a different

>Since you suggest that we refuse to act as editors or referees to these 
>new journals as a way of curtailing then, I must assume that they all are 
>subjected to editorial and refereed review. Don't you think that's 
>preferable to the more prevalent practice of just sending papers around 
>to a selected in-group? or even the posting of unrefereed papers into 
>data bases geared for special interest groups (e.g. the Optimality List)? 
>I think that both the latter practices indicate that we have a need for 
>more journals and that curtailing them would be counterproductive.

George Fowler <>, who is editor of one of the new
journals, defends his new journal. My comment is that it would be
great if all journals were run in this way, by idealistic linguists,
rather than (as all too often) by big publishers. Here is George
Fowler's message:

>You neglected to list (ahem) the Journal of Slavic Linguistics, first
>published in 1993. It is now in its fourth year, covering all its costs
>(except for the labor of love component on the part of the editors!). I am
>editor-in-chief and publisher, and we have three associate editors.
>>Is this a healthy trend? Or does it lead to the dilution of the
>>quality of published research? Is the field of linguistics (and
>>library budgets worldwide) still growing at a pace to justify this
>>proliferation? Are a sufficient number of older journals disappearing
>>to make room for the newcomers? Or is the resulting fragmentation of
>>the field perhaps inevitable anyway?
>Of course it's a healthy trend. It doesn't matter about dilution, because
>there are innumerable publications anyway, running the gamut from the very
>finest and most consistent journal down to mediocre collections of working
>papers; I seriously doubt whether there is any measurable dilution going
>In our case, we accept around 30% of submissions, referee them seriously,
>and we work hard with papers that have something to say but aren't fully
>baked yet. I can't say that everything we have ever published is of
>enduring value, but we do try hard.
>Bear in mind that journals also close down operation, and a certain amount
>of new blood is constantly needed. In our subfield during the last 10 years
>or so we have lost the International Journal of Slavic Linguistics and
>Poetics (not formally folded, but one volume published in over 10 years)
>and Folia Slavica.
>>A few weeks ago Pier Marco Bertinetto brought up the issue of journal
>>costs. I feel that we as linguists have more influence on the number
>>of new journals coming out than on their prices--we could simply
>>refuse to serve as editors or to adorn their editorial boards.
>I absolutely agree with this. Price can be ridiculous, especially in
>Europe! One of our priorities at JSL was to keep the journal affordable,
>especially for students. We publish two issues a year, ca. 400 pages. The
>first two years we published at a loss at $20/year, with the loss absorbed
>(especially during the first year) by the Indiana University Linguistics
>Club. For the third year we instituted a three-tier system, $20 students,
>$30 individuals, $40 institutions. This still seems reasonable to us--a far
>cry from some of the $200+ institutional subscription rates I see for
>certain journals. In the 3rd year we had a publication surplus of a few
>hundred dollars (and this is likely to increase over the long run, as we
>are still selling a few back issues), and I expect we will do even better
>in 1996, the 4th year of publication. We would be covering all expenses
>(production, distribution, and an editorial assistant) at those rates if we
>achieved a circulation of 100 libraries and 100 individuals; we are short
>of this level in both categories, although I can foresee the day when we
>reach 100 libraries (student subscriptions are so cheap that they don't
>affect the picture). We are attempting to offer at-cost library and
>individual subscriptions for Eastern Europe & Russia ($20/year, encouraging
>gift subscriptions to individuals and exchange subs to as many libraries as
>possible); this seems like something we can do to contribute to the
>dissemination of western linguistic theory and ideas in that economically
>depressed part of the world. That particular concern is specific to the
>Slavic field, but never mind.
>I personally feel that what linguistic publishing needs is more people who
>are willing to get their hands dirty and do production & distribution
>themselves, instead of relying upon large publishers with immense overhead
>and high subscription rates. As an individual, I LOVE to receive a new
>journal issue in the mail, and would like to subscribe to as many as
>possible. But I won't pay $200 for four issues of anything.
>George Fowler

Thanks to those who responded!

Martin Haspelmath (Free University of Berlin)
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