[Lingtyp] future of ALT

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Fri Nov 24 13:03:00 UTC 2017

Dear all,

Many thanks to Jeff Good for his clear and candid explanation of the 
situation with ALT (copied below). If one finds it unsatisfactory, I see 
two different directions in which ALT could develop in the future: the 
“Autonomous Association” option, and the “ALT Committee” option (both of 
which would be improvements, I think).

The *Autonomous Association* model would mean a development toward an 
independent association (like the LSA) that collects its membership fees 
and has a proper governance structure, with clear statutes, accountable 
officers and a way for the members to influence elections and motions. 
This would mean much more work for the officers, and this is possible 
only if they are remunerated generously, i.e. if the membership fee is 
increased substantially (e.g. to assist the officers with money for 
student assistants). Officers who do a lot of work should also be given 
subsidies for attending the conferences, so that they can meet (at least 
once a year) to discuss matters face to face. An Autonomous Association 
can also think about subsidizing members from poor countries, and of 
finding other ways of giving special support to those who need it. It 
might also think of having its own journal (recall that LT is owned by 
De Gruyter), or of supporting other open-access initiatives like LangSci 
Press that are important for members with no access to libraries.

The question is what would motivate the members to pay a more 
substantial amount – what exactly do they get out of it for themselves? 
When I joined the LSA and the SLE in the 1980s, it was also because I 
wanted to get the journals (to read them at home and not only in the 
libraries), and even in the 1990s, printed membership address lists were 
very important. Nowadays, these motivations are basically gone, and one 
would need to appeal to altruism; moreover, there may simply be too few 
typologists (compared to the thousands of LSA members). So the other 
option may be more realistic:

The *ALT Committee* option is much easier to realize, and it would 
involve much less work for quite a few people. By this I mean the model 
by which historical linguistics is organized (as far as I know). There 
is an e-mail list (Histling, corresponding to our Lingtyp), and there is 
an “ICHL committee”, i.e. a group of people who are in regular contact 
and discuss among themselves who will organize the next International 
Conference of Historical Linguistics. There are no elections, and the 
committee makes sure to coopt new people in an ad hoc way (if I 
understand correctly – there does not seem to be an ICHL website that 
explains the model). This seems to work quite well: The ICHL conferences 
have been taking place very regularly (in a bienniel rhythm, like ALT), 
with large numbers of participants. The ICHL community has no journal of 
its own, but there seem to be enough other historical linguistics journals.

This is also the model by which SWL (Syntax of the World’s Languages, a 
conference series that I helped found in 2004) works: There is a 
committee that consists of the organizers of the last four SWLs or so, 
and there is no other structure, so no extra work is created. Like ICHL, 
SWL <https://swl8.sciencesconf.org/> has been taking place regularly 
every two years and is working well.

If typologists adopted the “ALT Committee” model, then we would not have 
to pay membership fees anymore, and the main deciders would be those who 
do most of the actual work anyway: the ALT conference organizers. They 
would get to select the programme committee and any other issues related 
to the conference organization. LT would be left for De Gruyter (the 
legal owners) to look after, and would no doubt continue to thrive, 
given that De Gruyter generates most of its income via big packages. 
(Access to journal articles does not seem to be a problem anymore – most 
of us seem to have access through our institutions, or less formally via 
Academia.edu or Sci-Hub.)

I was on the Executive Committee of the SLE for the last three years 
(president in 2016), and many of the same problems exist there – I 
suggested an "SLE Committee" solution also for the Societas Linguistica 
Europaea. But the SLE does not have an e-mail list, so there is no way 
to discuss these matters among the members.

It may seem very surprising that I am suggesting that ALT (and SLE) 
could (or should) scale down in such a drastic way, but we need to keep 
in mind why ALT was founded: In order to bring typologists together – 
there was a real need for this in the 1990s, and our whole community 
owes Frans Plank a lot (whi initiated ALT and LT in the mid 1990s). But 
nowadays, we can stay together in much simpler ways (especially thanks 
to the internet and Lingtyp, and thanks to De Gruyter's efforts for LT). 
The world has changed dramatically since 1997, so maybe ALT needs to 
change as well.

All the best,


On 23.11.17 13:23, Good, Jeff wrote:
> Dear all,
> The ALT Executive Committee has been actively reading all posts related to the proposed Code of Conduct. If we have not replied sooner, it is simply due to the inherent delays for deliberation among members of a body spread across multiple time zones.
> We take the concerns about the procedure adopted here seriously, and I would like to provide some background information that may be helpful to those following this discussion on this list.
> -A copy of the ALT statutes can be found here: http://www.linguistic-typology.org/ALTstatutes.pdf. (I don’t know how long they have been there precisely, but a search of the Internet Archive suggests that they have been posted for some time on the main homepage, but in a place that would be easy to miss.)
> -As has been pointed out, the ALT Statutes are not especially helpful in determining the best procedure for adopting something like a code of conduct. In fact, from what I understand of the Association, it has always been run relatively informally. In some respects, I believe that this makes sense: It has limited resources and is run by volunteers. Asking them to adhere formal procedures would add to their workloads in ways that would likely make it impossible to find willing volunteers to do the work needed to keep the Association going.
> -For many years, ALT membership has been handled by the publisher of Linguistic Typology, De Gruyter Mouton, and they have provided an important service to the Association in this regard. However, for various reasons, the nature of the arrangement makes it difficult for ALT to maintain a proper list of current members. This has long made the restriction that “only members can vote” difficult to strictly maintain. Since most votes have involved elected offices and have been overwhelmingly positive, this has not been a significant practical concern until now.
> -The proposal to adopt a code of conduct, and consideration of the Association’s response to the problems associated with sexual harassment more broadly, took place over a period of several months and was not restricted to the Executive Committee alone but also, in particular, involved consultation with the Local Organizing Committee for the upcoming conference in Canberra. The Executive Committee decided that a matter of this kind should be put to a vote of the membership rather than being treated as a simple Executive Committee decision. The discussion on this list suggests that this was the right decision but that the procedure to be followed should have been thought through more carefully. We acknowledge this and will work to address this issue.
> -Previous recent ALT votes have not been anonymous, but I decided that a vote on the Code of Conduct should allow for anonymity and, for expediency, decided to include the vote for the Executive Committee on the same ballot. This does mean that we cannot fully verify if “members” are voting, but this is extremely difficult anyway since we can’t actually get a complete list of members as indicated above. Given this, concerns regarding procedure are well taken. When the voting period closes, the Executive Committee will examine the results with this problem in mind. Even before the discussion on this list took place, I would have made clear to them the potential problems with interpreting anything other than an extremely clear vote as a vote in favor or opposed. (Some might wonder why these procedures were not carefully laid out before hand. This goes back to the relatively informal way that ALT has been run over the years for reasons mentioned above.)
> -At this stage, the Executive Committee plans to wait to develop a specific plan forward until the vote has completed. At that time, it can examine the results of the vote and make them available to readers of this list. This will provide useful information even if only treated as an informal poll. We want to make clear that we have no interest in forcing a controversial code on the entire membership. Several posts to this list have suggested how we can move forward productively on this topic from a procedural perspective. We can use these as a starting point for consideration of this issue at the biennial meeting and then take the conclusions of that meeting back to this list to get further feedback. In the meantime, we can work with the Local Organizing Committee to develop a specific way to address the issue of harassment at the upcoming conference that takes all of the concerns raised on this list into account.
> I would like to take this opportunity to add that some members of the Executive Committee have heard privately from individuals on this list about the importance to them of adopting a code of conduct along the lines of what has been proposed due to their own personal experiences. It is clear that the nature of the conversation on this list has not been conducive to the participation of individuals who have experienced harassment or uninvited behavior at conferences. I believe it is important for those on this list to know that these viewpoints have been made known, even if they can only be transmitted indirectly.
> Finally, for those would like to provide further input on the code or the procedure for moving forward, I would ask that you consider whether your comments are best directed to all readers of this list or to the Executive Committee specifically. If the latter, I would encourage you to contact us directly, or you can contact me or Kristine Hildebrandt, and we will pass your input along to them.
> We will continue to actively read this discussion as we develop a proposal to move forward on this issue.
> Best
> Jeff Good
> President, Association for Linguistic Typology
> _______________________________________________
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> Lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
> http://listserv.linguistlist.org/mailman/listinfo/lingtyp

Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de)
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10	
D-07745 Jena
Leipzig University
IPF 141199
Nikolaistrasse 6-10
D-04109 Leipzig

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