Bill Croft wcroft at UNM.EDU
Tue Nov 15 16:24:56 UTC 2011

Dear everyone,

     Let me now say a couple of things about the big points that went 
beyond my particular complaint. There are two issues that have not 
been raised yet in public discussion on this list.

     The first is particular to the publishing of grammars of small, 
endangered languages. A major problem here is not supply but demand. 
Although Bernard Comrie wrote an article titled "Linguistics is about 
languages" over thirty years ago, it still isn't true in the field in 
general. When Anke Beck was the linguistics editor at Mouton, she 
told me that actually very few people took advantage of the ALT/SSILA 
discounts. If the majority of linguists regularly bought grammars, 
there would be more publishers of grammars and prices would be more 

    The second is a more general phenomenon for academic publishing. 
The availability of (illegal) pdfs of expensive scholarly monographs 
is going to kill traditional academic publishing. Raising prices on 
legal hardcopies (and legal e-books), and occasional crackdowns on 
illegal pdfs, won't solve the problem. It's happened in music, in 
movies, and in print journalism. Even Mouton's willingness to serve 
the typological public is limited by the bottom line. For-profit 
publishers will eventually get out. Most for-profit linguistics 
publishers no longer publish scholarly monographs, just reference 
materials and textbooks that make money (and even those are 
threatened by digital technology). The rest will probably give up in 
the near future, for economic reasons.

    Nigel's proposal is what will eventually have to happen. It 
happened in physics, quite rapidly in fact; but that is a different 
field. (And has submitted papers, not accepted ones; so you 
still have to plough through the chaff as well as the wheat to keep 
current.) It is happening painfully slowly in the humanities. Print 
journals still dominate - "Linguistic Discovery" and "Constructions" 
are pretty moribund. Consider the documentary linguist wanting to 
publish a grammar: given her/his need to have a good publication 
venue to get tenure, will s/he publish with a long-established 
prestigious publisher whose grammar series is edited by Bernard 
Comrie, Georg Bossong and Matthew Dryer, or will s/he go to an 
untested online publisher whose editors are not the very top 
typologists in the field? The same goes with other linguistics 
subfields and publishers (it's going to be hard to match the cachet 
of OUP and CUP, and the editors they are able to attract).

     Sorry to be pessimistic, but it's going to be hard to break 
tradition. I fear things will get worse before they get better. I 
personally don't want to see hardcopy publishing of scholarly 
research go away, and would like to see it made somehow more 
affordable (e.g. print on demand in a paperback format, as CUP has 
done for its out of print titles). I will support or join efforts to 
move to a better publication model than the current one for 
individual scholars. But it will take time, maybe a long time.


>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 
>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 
>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