Nigel Vincent nigel.vincent at MANCHESTER.AC.UK
Tue Nov 15 09:43:12 UTC 2011

Dear All,
I'll pass on all the issues about MDG and the costs of for-profit publishing, though I recognise as Scott says that this was what Bill's original post sought to address.

I would however like to come back to the point that Mark raises in the last para of his most recent message, and which surfaced in some of the earlier contributions by Martin and others. The circle that that has to be squared is that on the one hand academics need the independent guarantees of quality that come with peer reviewing and prestige associated with certain publication outlets, and on the other we need to somehow to reduce the spiralling costs of these volumes which put them beyond not only local communities but also fellow researchers and indeed increasingly all but the best funded libraries.

The only answer it seems to me is to establish an online venue that is prepared to be tough in terms of peer review and quality selection in the way a top journal or publisher is but does not have high running costs. It may take a while for such a venture to acquire prestige but if enough of us were prepared to commit to it, I believe it would be possible and worth doing. Is it something we should have a little online working group to try and investigate and perhaps develop a proposal?


Professor Nigel Vincent, FBA
Honorary Professor of General & Romance Linguistics
The University of Manchester

Vice-President for Research & HE Policy, The British Academy

School of Languages, Linguistics & Cultures
The University of Manchester
Manchester M13 9PL

(+ 44) (0)161 275 3194
From: Discussion List for ALT [LINGTYP at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG] on behalf of Post, Mark [ at JCU.EDU.AU]
Sent: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 6:15 AM
Subject: Publishing

Dear Typologists,

Looking back over this very thought-provoking exchange, I think I can reconstruct some of its more “heated” aspects to the following discursive events:

(1)    Bill Croft criticized a particular policy decision at MDG which related to discounted pricing of MGL volumes, among others.

(2)    I suggested that this was one facet of a larger problem regarding the pricing of minority language description in general, and continued to use the example of MGL because it illustrated the point well enough.

Some listmembers took this as implying that

(3)    MDG should be singled-out among academic publishers for its prohibitive pricing of language description, perhaps further implying there are at least some academic publishers who provide the same quality at more affordable rates, and that MDG’s failure to do so was a matter of choice, or greed, etc.

I don’t think that (3) need follow from (1) and (2), but to the extent that my post served to bias the discussion in that direction, I apologize to Uri, to Frans, and to others at or associated with MDG who, indeed, quite obviously work hard to successfully bring out high-quality linguistic research. I obviously don’t know what MGL’s profit margins are, and it doesn’t surprise me to hear suggestions that MDG might not be making much of a profit from this particular series.

But whether MDG is the worst or the best of the worst is not the point I was trying to focus on. Whatever the reasons, the facts remain that the pricing of MGL volumes – among, yes, very many other journals and book series published in linguistics today, whether by MDG or by other publishers – renders them unaffordable, and the research contained within them inaccessible, to a great number of researchers, and that this problem is particularly acute in regions of the world from which much of modern language description originates. And I am, actually, surprised to hear suggestions here and there that only a “handful” of people in such regions might make use of language description, or that the use to which they might put language description might or might not be valid or valuable in some sense. In my admittedly limited experience, members of minority language communities are often very, very keen to examine anything which has been written about them or their languages, and local researchers – whether they are “community members” or not – are in fact very frequently in need of materials relating to languages of their region that can’t be accessed for economic reasons (I, at least, seem to get emails requesting a .pdf of this or that book all the time). It seems to me that making descriptive materials accessible to these types of user should be a top priority. If for-profit publishing is in principle incapable of doing this – which is one way of interpreting several posts in this thread, at least – then participation in for-profit publishing seems unethical, at least where minority language description is concerned, presuming one has any real choice in the matter.

The problem, of course, is that we seem to lack acceptable alternatives. Few of us are free to pick and choose among publishers on the basis of purely economic or ethical considerations, and most of us exist in academic regimes in which “output” is not recognized unless it has the blessing of a publisher, “quality” is quantified in ways that do not invoke accessibility, and both promotions and research funding are contingent on such “quality output”. So, picking up on some earlier points made by Harald, Martin and others, it does seem to me that we, as editors, as reviewers, as authors, as advisory board members to funding agencies and (maybe) as university administrators, need to try to steer academic publishing back into the universities – universities being repositories of prestige, as well as capacity – and toward open-access/print-on-demand models. And I repeat here my wish to continue to hear suggestions for how this might be effectively accomplished, or to learn why exactly it is either impractical or undesirable.

All the best,


Mark W. Post, PhD
Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Anthropological Linguistics
The Cairns Institute
James Cook University
Smithfield, QLD 4878

Tel: +61-7-4042-1898
Eml: at

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list