Yaron Matras yaron.matras at MANCHESTER.AC.UK
Tue Nov 15 09:51:49 UTC 2011

Not wishing to undermine the efforts of those who write and produce descriptive grammars in printed form, perhaps this is a good occasion to point out that the Romani Morpho-Syntax Database (RMS; so named because of its primary focus, although it also deals with phonology and lexicon) provides typologically informed overview descriptions in the form of tables and examples with translation of over 150 varieties of Romani. The format is shorthand, i.e. there is no narrative, but this could in principle be supplemented. The material is based on fieldwork and all examples are accompanied by sound files. All of it is accessible free of charge on

In fact, in the five years since its launch the online database has had some 150,000 unique visitors. That is many more than those who specialise in Romani linguistics, or even in linguistic typology ...

Yaron Matras

Professor Yaron Matras
School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures
The University of Manchester
Oxford Road
Manchester M13 9PL
United Kingdom

Tel.+44-161-275 3975
From: Discussion List for ALT [LINGTYP at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG] on behalf of Post, Mark [ at JCU.EDU.AU]
Sent: 15 November 2011 06:15
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

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