publishing fieldwork data

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at EVA.MPG.DE
Tue Apr 17 14:23:45 UTC 2007

Peter Austin wrote:
> Note also that archiving (ie. creating well structured archival objects with associated metadata to be placed in a trusted repository) is *not* the same as publishing (including web publication) - the structure and format of archive files and publication files is likely to be quite different, for example.
Yes, but the original posting was about publication, because traditional 
paper publication will soon be superseded by electronic publication 
(just as traditional archiving is being superseded by electronic 
archiving), and the question is how the traditional roles of publication 
(recognition, citability, accessibility, standardization, preservation) 
are best fulfilled by electronic publications.

Typological databases remained simply unpublished until fairly recently 
-- only the interpretations of these databases made it into books and 

Annotated original texts in little-known have long been published by 
fieldworkers, for well over a 100 years. Paper publication of texts in 
exotic languages has been hampered by publishers' unwillingness to 
publish books that very few people would buy, and perhaps also by a lack 
of appreciation in the field for the value of such texts. That value is 
now widely recognized, but texts still don't get published widely, in 
the sense of made accessible in a peer-reviewed publication organ that 
would be accessible to anyone. As has been mentioned, there is no 
shortage of activities, but what I don't see yet is something like an 
e-journal for annotated text collections. Why?

Similarly, typologists don't yet have an e-journal for typological 
databases. I find the reason for this easier to identify: A typological 
database is a much less traditional object of publication than an 
annotated text, so there are no clear models in traditional publication 
practice, and an e-journal for typological databases would have to start 
from scratch in many way.
> One could suggest several possible reasons why there aren't 'piles of data out there' provided by fieldworkers for other scholars to mine:
> 1. a concern about "drive by typologists" who take primary data and analyses for their own use without recognising or giving anything back to the researcher who collected and prepared the data originally;
> 2. a need to take care with proper recognition of intellectual property rights and moral rights (of both speakers and analysts) that some researchers simply feel has been lacking in the past.
I don't quite understand the first, because in my experience, 
fieldworkers are happy if someone else reads their works and if their 
languages become known or even notorious in generalists' circles. (It is 
true that in the 1960s, it was acceptable to write a typological paper 
without any references to the sources (e.g. Greenberg 1963), but that is 
ancient history.)
> To my mind, a very positive development has been the recent decision of at least one major linguistics journal to require bibliographical citation of original sources for all example sentences in papers, 
I think this should go without saying nowadays, and clearly linguistics 
has made enormous progress in this regard during the last few decades.
> As researchers publish their secondary, tertiary and n-ary analyses with proper citation and recognition of primary sources and archival data an environment may well be created where those who collect and analyse primary data feel less reluctant to make their materials more widely available.
Yes, of course I don't expect anyone to make their text collections 
available on their home page, where it's unclear how they should be 
cited, and whether they count as real publications. Similarly, I don't 
expect a typologist to make their databases available on their homepage.

So apparently what both typologists and fieldworkers need is new 
e-journals where typological datasets and annotated texts can be 
published in a regular way. Maybe one of the reasons why they don't 
really exist yet is that setting up such a journal requires a major 
coordination effort and non-negligible funding commitments. But wouldn't 
it be worth the efforts and the funds?


Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at
Max-Planck-Institut fuer evolutionaere Anthropologie, Deutscher Platz 6	
D-04103 Leipzig      
Tel. (MPI) +49-341-3550 307, (priv.) +49-341-980 1616

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