LINGUIST List 7.1321

Tue Sep 24 1996

Sum: Standards for bibliographical references

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Oesten Dahl, Standards for bibliographical references: summary and proposal

Message 1: Standards for bibliographical references: summary and proposal

Date: Mon, 23 Sep 1996 09:00:53 BST
From: Oesten Dahl <>
Subject: Standards for bibliographical references: summary and proposal
Two weeks ago I asked:

>Is there anyone except me who feels the need for a unified way of writing
>bibliographical references? 

I received responses from 23 people (I hope nobody has got lost). In
addition, my posting has given rise to a discussion on another list,
ling-tex, the discussion group of linguists that use TeX. Thanks to
Martin Haase for keeping me informed about that development! Thanks
also to everyone who has written to me and apologies to all those whom
I haven't responded to individually. Here is the list of

Charlie Rowe <>
Chungmin Lee <>
Deborah D. Kela Ruuskanen <>
Dominique Estival <>
Donna Lillian <>
Ellen Bard <>
Glenn Ayres <>
Alice Horning <>
Ingo Plag <plagMailer.Uni-Marburg.DE>
Laurie Bauer <> 
James Jenkins <>
Karen S. Chung <>
Lee Hartman <> 
Martin Haase <>
Adam Meyers meyersacf2.NYU.EDU (meyers)
Michael Covington <>
Ocke-Schwen Bohn <>
Jan Odijk <>
Peter Daniels <>
Christian Bauer <> 
Tracy Cameron Mansfield <>
Gisela Redeker <>

The respondents fall into three categories (with some overlaps):

1. Those who remind me of standards that already exist.
2. Those who remind me of the existence of various software which
might solve the problem.
3. Those who simply support the idea.

Accordingly, let's have a look at existing standards and software.


The following bibliographical standards are relevant to the discussion
(others that have been mentioned are in my view too far from
linguistics and linguistic practice to merit serious consideration):

1. The MLA (Modern Language Association) standard.
2. The APA (American Psychological Association) standard.
3. The "Chicago Manual of Style" standard, which is really two
different standards, which I shall call "Chicago I" and "Chicago II".
4. The Language Style Sheet, previously called the LSA Style Sheet. 

For reasons of space and typography, I shall not try to describe in
detail what these different standards are like. Here are two web sites
where descriptions and examples can be found of (1-3):

I think it is possible to exclude at once the MLA standard and Chicago
II, which are fairly similar to each other but which deviate too much
from what is common practice in our field (the main stumbling-stone
being the placement of the year of publication towards the end of the

More serious candidates are the APA and Language style sheets. The APA
style sheet, as many correspondents have pointed out, is more or less
universally accepted in psychology, and also in quite a number of
publications on the borderline of psychology and linguistics. The
Language style sheet (regrettably, I should say) never seems to have
enjoyed a similar popularity. It seems that the LSA have kept a low
profile on this point, mainly enforcing it in their own
publications. (It is fairly similar to Chicago I.)


Some of the software which has been mentioned by correspondents is -


A special program (bibtex) transforms a uniform ASCII bibliographic
database into different bibliographic styles (which are defined in so
called bibstyle files), so one does not have to worry at all about the
final form of the bibliography, as long as there is a bibstyle. The
citation within the text is also organized through style files (style
sheets), the document styles (which contain other formatting
information, so that the same text can easily adapted to the needs of
a specific style sheet). (Martin Haase)

EndNote Plus
EndNote Plus 2 is a bibliographic database program that manages
bibliographic references and creates bibliographies automatically in
your word processor. More than 100,000 researchers, librarians, and
students use EndNote Plus to maintain a personal library of
references. The program assists academic writers and researchers in
keeping track of bibliographic references and generating
bibliographies for the books and papers that they write. EndNote Plus
is available for Macintosh, Windows and DOS. EndNote Plus comes with
more than 300 pre-defined bibliographic styles for the leading
journals in a wide variety of disciplines, and you can easily create
an unlimited number of your own styles. With Endlink, EndNote Plus's
import module, you can save yourself from typing bibliographic data by
hand. A variety of bibliographic databases available through online
services and CD-ROMs can give you fast access to thousands of
references. Using EndLink, you can import these references into your
EndNote Plus library without typing a word (mentioned by Christian
Bauer, info from (Comment: the bibliographic
styles do not include the Language style sheet or any other
specifically linguistic ones)


Use ProCite to organize references and format bibliographies in any
journal style. Easily maintain databases of research collections and
share data with colleagues. ProCite is available for Windows, DOS,
and the Macintosh System. (mentioned by Peter Daniels, info from

Blackwell Idealist
(mentioned by Annabel Cormack)
Seems to be a general database program

Now, what all these programs seem to be able to do is to store
bibliographical information in a database and then generate formatted
lists of references to be included in publications. This is all very
well - actually, I think any database program with any self-respect
can do that. The problem is that it does not really solve the
problem, for the following reasons:

1. So far, style files are typically provided only for the major
standards. Maybe we can convince the publishers who have their own
idiosyncratic style sheets to supply style files, but then we have a
new problem: the proliferation of software... The number of style
files will have to equal the number of style sheets multiplied by the
number of bibliography programs! So even assuming this solution it
wouldn't hurt to introduce unified standards.

2. If the software is not seamlessly integrated with the
word-processing programs people use, it will be very hard to convince
them that it's a good idea. (This is, I guess, the main objection
against LaTeX.)

2. Existing bibliography software seems to be quite good at GENERATING
lists of references. But there are other tasks that are no less
time-consuming, which those programs don't seem to be able to perform
(correct me if I am wrong!):

a. IMPORTING lists of references, not only ones specially formatted
for the purpose (comma-separated or whatever) but all your old lists
of references in various formats and various degrees of perfection

b. PROOF-READING bibliographical references in text format

c. CONVERTING references from one text format to another (maybe the
same as a)

Imagine for instance what happens when a volume of conference papers
is produced. Twenty or thirty authors with varying backgrounds and
varying ability and readiness to learn new standards are asked to
comply with some publisher's idiosyncratic style sheet. Each paper
contains between ten and fifty references. The editor of the volume
(whether s/he is the person who organized the conference or someone at
the publisher) has to check maybe a thousand entries. Anyone who has
tried knows what I'm talking about... In this situation, no existing
database will help you.


If you do not believe me, half an hour in your university library will
convince you that the situation with respect to writing bibliographies
in linguistics cannot be characterized by any other word than
chaos. There are about ten different ways of writing such a simple
thing as the year of publication, which I won't bore you by
enumerating. Just to give you an idea of what I am talking about,
consider the following. The Journal of Pragmatics writes "Chomsky,
Noam, 1957." when the Journal of Semantics has "Chomsky,
N. (1957),". The prize for idiosyncrasy goes however to the Kluwer
journals (Linguistics and Philosophy, Natural Language and Linguistic
Theory), which write "Chomsky, N.: 1957, ". I can see no rational
reason whatsoever why Kluwer Academic Publishers Group should be
allowed to get away with this. It does not help that they provide a
LaTeX style file on their website (

In my view, there are three options:

1. Join the psychologists, adopting the APA standard.
2. Adopt the LSA/Language Style Sheet as the standard for linguistics
in general.
3. Create a new standard. 

My personal leanings are towards the third alternative, although I
realize it is a bit risky, in that it may just become a new
"sectarian" style sheet used by a few people. The reason is that none
of two major existing standards is quite adequate for the needs of the
Internet age. (The APA style cannot, for instance, be rendered
properly on the Linguist List due to the use of italics.) Below, I
will describe what I call the "No Frills Style Sheet", which is my own
proposal. It does have some of the look and feel of the LSA Style
Sheet, but there are a number of points where it differs.


The idea behind this style sheet is that it should be maximally easy
to learn and to use, both for humans and computers. The consequences
are a set of simple principles:

1. A list of references should have a clear field-and-record
structure, with consistent field and record delimiters.
2. Punctuation and variation in typefaces should be kept to a minimum.
3. Context-sensitive rules should be avoided - an entity, for instance
a name, should be written the same way wherever it appears, as far as
4. When in doubt, choose the alternative that is closest to common
practice in linguistics (to the extent that it exists).

Here are some examples what the application of these principles leads

Chomsky, Noam. 1957. Syntactic structures. The Hague: Mouton.

Article or chapter from edited book:
Traugott, Elizabeth. 1978. On the expression of spatio-temporal
relations in language. In Greenberg, Joseph & Ferguson, Charles &
Moravcsik, Edith, eds., Universals of Human Language, vol. 3, Word
Structure, 369-400. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Article from journal:
Hopper, Paul & Thompson, Sandra. 1980. Transitivity in grammar and
discourse. Language 56: 251-99.

The major difference from the Language Style Sheet is in the order
some items are written. Names are always written as "Lastname,
Firstname" - this makes sorting and searching much easier and also
removes a source for typing errors. Similarly, the editors of books
are written before rather than after the title. There are further
details to be decided but this is the general idea of what it should
look like that I would like to present at this point.


I would now like to hear what people think about the alternatives. I
would like to emphasize that whatever option we choose, it will be a
big step forward in relieving us from a lot of totally unnecessary
trouble, if we succeed in getting it generally adopted.

Please write to me and tell me what you think. If this turns out be a
serious business, we should probably get a discussion list of our
own. But let us first see if there is enough interest in the whole

Oesten Dahl
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