Keenan & I on witnesses

In the fall of 1984, just back from half a year at Cambridge University, I switched universities from Münster to Köln. While in Cambridge, I had decided to study linguistics in addition to English and Philosophy. I did eventually take some intro classes, but what really sucked me in was an advanced seminar offered by Professor Paul Otto Samuelsdorff, who somehow had a manuscript copy of “Boolean semantics for natural language” by Ed Keenan and Leonard Faltz. In the seminar, Samuelsdorff and three of us students embarked on a close study of the book. While I had the mathematical background, everything else was new and exciting. In the same semester, I worked my way through Barwise & Cooper’s “Generalized quantifiers and natural language” and I also discovered Larry Horn’s thesis “On the semantic properties of logical operators in English”. Those three works taken together were simply a revelation and made me decide that this was my calling and that I was going to be a semanticist. [See my post on Eco for further stuff about that time.]

During my time as a graduate student, I met Ed several times at various conferences where I was presenting my work on exceptive phrases. One time he was in Amherst to give talks about the semantics of reflexives and the two of us spent a pleasant afternoon in the Black Sheep calculating and speculating about various technical ideas in generalized quantifier theory that had come up in my work.

Fast forward more than 25 years, Ed and I have a jointly authored short note on some issues involving quantifiers:

Working with one of my scientific idols has been quite an honor (and pleasure).

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Asleep at the wheel at Zombie Lingua?

[This post is co-authored by Eric Bakovic and me, cross-posted from Language Log.]

We have been following an ongoing story involving Zombie Lingua with great interest. For those unaware of it, and perhaps for those with only some awareness of it, here is what we currently know.

It will help to start by identifying the main characters in this story:

OK, here we go.

On Sept. 1, Youssef shared via Facebook his strong suspicions that an article-in-press at Zombie Lingua (“Monophthongization in Bedouin Jordanian Arabic: A unified analysis of Metrical model and Optimality theory“), authored by Mashaqba & Huneety, significantly plagiarizes Youssef’s own work; specifically, a 2010 article published in Zeitschrift für Arabische Linguistik (“Against Underlying Mid Vowels in Cairene Arabic“, a revised version of which appeared in his 2013 University of Tromsø PhD dissertation (“Place Assimilation in Arabic: Contrasts, Features, and Constraints“).

On Sept. 17, Youssef shared via Facebook a 13-page plagiarism complaint that he had submitted to Zombie Lingua’s editorial office a week earlier, with a copy of the message sent to the editor’s personal email address. Youssef notes in this post that he had yet to receive any kind of response, and that he had finally reached someone at Elsevier via their support center live chat. In a comment on the post, Youssef reports that the editor finally responded with a message saying that they take plagiarism “very seriously” and that they would investigate, very soon after which they sent Youssef’s complaint directly to Mashaqba & Huneety, giving them 30 days to respond to it.

Even though Youssef appears to be, quite understandably, rattled by this whole situation, he reports that he is cautiously optimistic about this most recent development. On the other hand, Youssef has very legitimate concerns about the extent of the problem that he has uncovered here. In a later comment on the Sept. 17 Facebook post, he reports with dismay his finding that Mashaqba & Huneety have published another article this month (“Emphatic segments and emphasis spread in rural Jordanian Arabic“, Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences 7(5), pp. 294-298) that may also involve some plagiarism of Youssef’s dissertation. Youssef appears to us to be taking appropriate steps to handle this larger problem, and we support him in his efforts. In the case of the ultimate resolution with Zombie Lingua and Mashaqba & Huneety, we share his optimism, and equally cautiously.

So, that’s where we’re currently at.

Our main concern here is with the conditions at Zombie Lingua that we believe have also significantly contributed to this particular situation. In a post just last month, one of us (Kai) went through the peer-reviewed articles that Zombie Lingua had published since January 2016 up to that point, and based on their submission receipt, revision receipt, and acceptance dates, concluded there is probably not much if any editorial oversight going on over at Zombie Lingua. This is not terribly surprising, given the make-up of the interim editorial board that Elsevier has cobbled together: it is quite simply not representative of the breadth of the field, which stands in sharp contrast with the stated mission of the journal.

The journal is devoted to the problems of general linguistics. Its aim is to present work of current interest in all areas of linguistics. Contributions are required to contain such general theoretical implications as to be of interest to any linguist, whatever their own specialisation.

[Side-note, perhaps for another time: several of the articles now appearing in Zombie Lingua seem to us to be quite outside the scope of this mission.]

Which brings us to Mashaqba & Huneety’s article-in-press. The original submission was received on November 16, 2015, revisions were received on May 14, 2016, and it was accepted on July 7, 2016. Lingua‘s prior (and Glossa‘s current) editor-in-chief, Johan Rooryck, has stated for the record that his editorial team did not handle this submission. Rooryck has further explained to us that unsolicited manuscripts submitted in mid-November 2015 and later were left for the new team to handle, to ensure some continuity in the review process. (Rooryck’s editorial team had officially announced its imminent departure in October 2015.)

So, the new editorial team sent Mashaqba & Huneety’s submission out for review, shepherded it through revisions, and accepted it. How was the plagiarism not detected at any point in this process? A big part of the answer to this question, we believe, is the lack of a proper phonology editor. Not one of the members of the current board can be described as someone who is current in phonology, someone who would know (or know of) the right people to ask to review any submission — reviewers who would be in the best possible position to ferret these problems out before they reach this stage (in case the editors themselves are not).

[Update, 9/30/2016: Thanks to Philip Spaelti and Wataru Uegaki for noting that Haruo Kubozono is a phonologist now on Zombie Lingua‘s board. We believe that Kubozono was quite likely not on the board when this paper would have first been sent out for review; one of us (Eric) has checked the editorial board page intermittently since January, and didn’t notice Kubozono’s name on the list until July. It’s of course possible that Kubozono was on the board earlier than that.]

The conclusion we draw from this fiasco is that Zombie Lingua is limping blindly along, and that linguists with the right (that is, wrong) incentives may feel reasonably justified in thinking that their submissions to Zombie Lingua will receive little if any thoughtful review or editorial push-back. This has long been the accusation hurled at so-called “predatory journals”, and it is clearly now available for hurling at a high-cost subscription journal brought to you by a “reputable” publisher.

However, so long as there are sharp eyes and brave souls like Islam Youssef in our community — and so long as Zombie Lingua‘s editorial team and Elsevier do the right thing in response to complaints like his — the push-back needed in cases like this one at least stands a small chance of being successful.

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[These are some thoughts as I’m getting ready to teach our first semester graduate introduction to semantics. This fall, I’m also serving as acting Graduate Program Director, while Sabine is on sabbatical leave. So, I figured I should write down some points that I often address in sermons in introductory classes. Let me know if you have comments or disagree with anything.]

Any scientific topic of sufficient theoretical complexity and with interesting empirical breadth cannot be taught from first principles. Teaching and learning of such topics is a messy affair, something that it’s important to get used to. Many of these thoughts are also relevant when one is confronted with a new article at the cutting edge of research or when one is listening to a research presentation.

Ideally, one might start from what is common ground among the students in the class (or one’s readers). But especially when people with different backgrounds and diverse interests come together, there’s actually very little that is truly common ground. So, what to do? One strategy is to pretend there’s more common ground than there really is and let people catch up as fast they can.

Presupposition Accommodation

In a way, when you’re new to a topic, you’re in a kind of situation that is familiar from the study of “presupposition accommodation” (I wrote a survey-ish article about this a while back). Imagine you enter an elevator and two people you vaguely know are in the middle of a conversation. One says “she’s in town for a conference.” The other: “we should talk to her about epistemic modality in Bulgarian”. And so on. As an eavesdropper, you can learn a lot from such conversations even if you never figure out who “she” is. Your task is to piece together what the common ground of the conversation is, without being explicitly informed about everything that’s being taken for granted. In classes and reading new work, that’s very often the case as well. Of course, while in the elevator it might be a faux pas to just barge in and ask who they are talking about, in classes it’s OK to ask clarifying questions about things that seem to be taken for granted. Maybe the question will be deflected and deferred to a later time, a conversation outside class or a TA tutorial, but at least it’s fine to register that you’re not entirely on board with the assumptions being made.

It’s important to get comfortable with not understanding everything, working to figure out the essence of what’s going on, and patiently and actively waiting for the pieces to drop into place. Yes, it’s often disorienting but if you keep at it, the picture will become clearer over time and tools and concepts will become second nature eventually.


In other words, you need to become used to feeling “stupid”. I mean this in an entirely non-disparaging sense: obviously, you’re not stupid. What it is is that you’re not completely understanding a complex topic. Of course, that is in fact the permanent condition of science. The whole point of science is to work at things we don’t understand and make some progress towards understanding, but that progress will then result in even more things we don’t understand. Answers to questions simply beget more questions. On my office door, I have a print out of a short article on this very topic.

When you’re in an almost perpetual state of progressive ignorance, and if you’re always surrounded by other super-smart people, it is very easy to lose sight of the inevitability of the feelings of “stupidity”. Instead, one easily starts to actually believe that one is inadequate and really is stupid compared to the others. This phenomenon is very widespread. I suffer from it myself. It’s important to be aware of it and if possible, turn it into a positive power. Here are two ways of thinking about it:

  1. In the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” (Bertrand Russell, “The Triumph of Stupidity”, 1933). Russell’s observation has been substantiated in psychological research and is known as the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”.

  2. Another term for the dynamic is “Imposter Syndrome”. At the last LSA Summer Institute, Penny Eckert and Monica Macaulay gave a presentation on the syndrome and the slides are available. Here is a good blog post with further links on this set of issues.

Coping with boredom

At the other end of the spectrum, a class may at times underchallenge you. You may already (think you) know everything or the pace is such that anything that is new to you takes very little effort to pick up. So, you’re bored. There are three strategies to cope with such boredom and it may make sense to mix these strategies depending on your energy levels, the semester schedule, and what else you have to do.

Coast: You might decide to just take it easy for a while: just do the little that is needed to stay with the class and devote your energies to other tasks. This is legitimate. Faculty may choose to do this as well at times. It can’t be the dominant strategy, though, if it means that you’re not moving forward in your chosen field.

If the material appears too easy for you, there are two ways of deepening your engagement and thereby making it appropriately hard again.

Going meta: figure out how you would teach the material. The easiest way to do this is to actually teach it: in groups with your fellow students, some of whom probably find the material more challenging than you do, work on explaining things a different way from the way it was done in class. And even if you don’t have such an early outlet for your pedagogical insights, presumably in a few years you will definitely have to teach and it’s good to have thought about it beforehand. Pedagogical insights are also very useful for writing papers because the deeper your penetration of the topic is and the better you understand what it takes to convey its intricacies, the clearer your prose will be.

Deep dive: any topic has fractal levels of complexity. We may skate over that in class but you can go deeper. Find current research in the area and read it. Think about using other methodologies to study the relevant phenomena: what is the language acquisition angle on the topic? Is there relevant psycholinguistic work? What is the cross-linguistic picture? How do syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology work together? If you find anything that grabs your interest, pursue it, talk to colleagues and faculty about it. Rinse and repeat.

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Checking on the zombies

Prompted by an exchange with Brooke Larson on twitter, I decided it was time to check on the health of everyone’s favorite zombie, the journal Lingua, whose editorial team defected en masse to start the open access journal Glossa. Since January this year, Zombie Lingua has been edited by “Interim Editor-in-chief” Harry Whitaker. Since January 1, the journal has published an impressive number of peer-reviewed articles: 49 in total (there are some others, like introductions to special issues, that have no peer review information). I inspected the date information on those articles. Here’s the upshot:

  • all of the articles were first submitted before January 2016. So, there have not been any articles published that were submitted to Zombie Lingua in its new incarnation.
  • 36 articles (73%) were accepted by the old team and just published in 2016.
  • 13 articles (27%) were accepted by the new team after a revised version (using the feedback from the old team) was submitted.
  • 10 of the 13 articles (77%) accepted by the new team were accepted on the very day they were received, so with little or no editorial oversight. In fact, on one day (March 31), seven articles were submitted and accepted on the spot. A banner day.

I think it’s safe to say that we have no evidence that Zombie Lingua is alive.

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S&P Early Access

[Reposted from the S&P Editors Blog]

Visitors to S&P’s homepage will see our newest feature in action. Accepted papers for which we have a LaTeX source file will, with the authors’ permission, now immediately be published in an “early access” version. They will already be assigned their final DOI, so they can be linked and referred to as officially published. This way they can be listed on CVs with all their final citation details (with the sole exception of missing page numbers, since we won’t know how many pages the article has until the final typeset version).

This year’s volume of S&P already shapes up to be epic. We invite you to browse through the amazing collection of articles that our authors have entrusted to S&P.

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Echoes of Eco

[Sorry, couldn’t resist that title.]

My favorite classes at the Hittorf-Gymnasium in Münster were Math, Chemistry, Latin, and Philosophy. My philosophy teacher, Herr Ledwig, in particular, was formative. We read lots of seminal European philosophy (Aristotle, Descartes, Vico, Weber, …). I spent a lot of time in the public library looking at and borrowing plenty of stuff that was a true challenge. I struggled through the writings of Benjamin, Adorno, and Marcuse. When I graduated and enrolled at the University of Münster, I decided not to become the mathematician that I had once thought I was going to be. I became an English major with Philosophy and History of Arts as minors.

Around that time, in 1982, Eco’s The Name of the Rose appeared in the German translation and was an instant sensation. I devoured the book. I was immediately and completely obsessed with everything that had to do with the book. Aristotle, medieval history, medieval philosophy, James Bond, semiotics, aesthetics, Latin, Greek, whatever. I taught myself enough Italian to read Eco’s thesis on medieval aesthetics. I read his Theory of Semiotics. I read Peirce. I took Professor Schepers’ classes on medieval logic at the Leibniz Research Institute, where we read Ockham and William of Sherwood in the original. I read Quine’s Word and Object.

When I spent a year at Cambridge University as an exchange student and English major, I dutifully did my work on English Romantic poetry and on the modern/post-modern novel, but really I was finally discovering my future profession: the study of semantics within general linguistics. This was then cemented when I returned to Germany and switched universities to study in Cologne. There, the revelations were Professor Samuelsdorff’s seminar on the recently circulating manuscript of Keenan & Faltz’s Boolean Semantics for Natural Language and my independent reading of Barwise & Cooper on generalized quantifiers and of Horn’s thesis on The Semantics of Logical Operators in English. I had found my calling. In a seminar on Aristotle and the medieval Islamic scholars, I discovered the Islamic logicians’ work on exceptives and their correspondences in medieval logic. This directly led to my first generals paper at UMass a couple of years later (which then became my first journal article in the new journal Natural Language Semantics).

Just before I came to UMass, in 1986, I attended a summer school in Munich, where I took classes with Robin Cooper and Roland Hausser. At that time, there was a conference in town where Eco gave a talk on “Fakes”. Afterwards, I went down to ask him a question. I shook his hand and was barely able to speak, completely star-struck.

Looking back on this story, there’s a lot of serendipity and luck (I can’t believe I got into the UMass program to learn semantics from Angelika, Barbara, and Emmon). But, there’s also Eco. He was simply pivotal in helping me find my passions. Rest in peace, Maestro.

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MIT Support for Glossa

[Reproducing a statement published this morning in the MIT Linguistics Newsletter:]

Below is a statement from the MIT Linguistics Faculty on open access and the new journal Glossa. We’re following our colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Similar statements are being considered on other campuses. For background, you can consult this post at Language Log and a statement from Glossa’s editor-in-chief Johan Rooryck. [Update: See now also a similar statement from linguists across the University of California system.]

MIT Linguistics Faculty Statement of Support for Glossa

We, the undersigned linguistics faculty of MIT, state our strong support for the principle of open access to scholarly communication, as affirmed in the Open Access Policy of the MIT Faculty. In the context of this commitment, we also state our strong support for the editorial team that recently left the journal Lingua and started the fair open access journal Glossa. We firmly expect that Glossa will inherit and exceed the quality and reputation of the earlier journal. We applaud MIT’s support for the Open Library of Humanities, the organization that, together with the LingOA initiative, is underwriting Glossa. We pledge to further the aims of open access in our actions as editors, reviewers, and authors.

Adam Albright
Sylvain Bromberger
Noam Chomsky
Michel DeGraff
Kai von Fintel
Edward Flemming
Suzanne Flynn
Danny Fox
Martin Hackl
James Harris
Irene Heim
Sabine Iatridou
Michael Kenstowicz
Samuel Jay Keyser
Shigeru Miyagawa
Wayne O’Neil
David Pesetsky
Norvin Richards
Roger Schwarzschild
Donca Steriade
Kenneth Wexler

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AMPRA Call for papers

On November 4-6, 2016, the 3rd International Conference of the American Pragmatics Association (AMPRA) will take place at Indiana University in Bloomington. I will be one of the keynote speakers (the other two are Herman Cappelen and Susan Herring). There is a call for papers with an abstract deadline of April 15, 2016 (short abstracts of 300 words or less). There are graduate student travel grants available.

Three main topics of the conference are as follows:

(i) Pragmatic theories: neo-Gricean approaches, relevance theory, theory of mind, meaning, role of context, grammaticalization, semantics-pragmatics interface, explicature, implicature, speech act theory, presuppositions, im/politeness, experimental pragmatics, etc.

(ii) Intercultural, cross-cultural and societal aspects of pragmatics: research involving more than one language and culture or varieties of one language, lingua franca, computer-mediated communication, bilinguals’ and heritage speakers’ language use, intercultural misunderstandings, service encounters, effect of dual language and multilingual systems on the development and use of pragmatic skills, etc.

(iii) Applications: usage and corpus-based approaches, pragmatic competence, teachability and learnability of pragmatic skills, pragmatic variation, developmental pragmatics, cross-cultural pragmatics, etc.

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Beyond Open Access

These are times of upheaval in scholarly communication. One thing that seems clear is that open access will prevail: since most scientific research is directly and indirectly funded through public money, it is simply inescapable that the public should have open access to the results of the research. And it is also inescapable that there needs to be careful stewardship of that public money and that it should not be syphoned off to support the large profit margin of legacy publishers. So, let’s accept that open access and fair pricing are non-negotiable and inevitable. What’s next?

What made open access feasible was the advent of the internet and the possibility to disseminate research papers quickly and without access controls. Many of us make our manuscripts available on disciplinary sites such as LingBuzz, the Semantics Archive, PhilPapers, and so on. In many ways, those sites are the primary way that new results first reach the community.

Beyond that, what else do we really need? Isn’t posting papers on such archives all that’s required to keep the engines of collaborative scientific progress well-oiled? Do we need peer review, do we need journals?

Since I am the co-founding editor of a staunchly peer-reviewed journal, with a rather draconian rejection rate, you might think that my answer will be unambiguous, but in fact, I don’t think these are easy questions nowadays.

What do journals actually offer? Here are the main considerations:

  • peer and editorial feedback to authors
  • curation: selecting and highlighting the best work
  • copy-editing
  • type-setting
  • income for publisher

The main costs for running a journal are in the latter three categories. The editorial work and the work of the peer reviewers is typically pro bono, covered by their employers. Some journals may pay the editor a small stipend or expense account, but that is the exception in linguistics at least.

Is it all worth it?

Authors at S&P seem to value the intensive and extensive feedback they receive. Is there any other mechanism by which authors can reliably receive such feedback? Experiments with open peer review have not taken off, at least in linguistics, but maybe it’s worth a try. One might hope that authors, especially junior ones, get ample feedback from their mentors and peers before a paper is injected into the publication pipeline. But judging by what gets submitted to S&P, I’m not so sanguine.

Do we need curation? If every paper is available in the disciplinary archives, how do readers decide which are worth the investment of a day of intense study, or at least an hour of cursory reading? Will established authors have a lock on the attention of potential readers?

Do tenure & promotion committees need the validation that comes from a paper having been published in a reputable journal? Shouldn’t they simply go by the considered opinion of the external letter writers and maybe by the objective citation record (keeping in mind, again, that much of the scientific communication happens through disciplinary archives and other ways of exchanging papers and drafts, so that citation archaeology should be maximally permissive, that is, more like Google Scholar than Web of Science).

Do we need copy-editing and type-setting? When we started S&P, it was clear to us that a new-fangled open access journal needed to have a very professional “look” to its articles. That together, with my frankly out-of-control obsession with typographic precision, lead to a very labor-intensive production process. Our competitor journals outsource this step to companies that do not have disciplinary expertise, for the most part. They also don’t necessarily offer copy-editing at all. The typographic results are also somewhat problematic. So, S&P can be proud of its presentation. But it is a major pain-point nevertheless. More on this later.

Now, these aspects of journals are not inextricably linked. We could easily unbundle them. And I think we should. We should experiment with a good number of models and see which ones work and which ones don’t. We may end up with a much more interesting and fruitful landscape of publication avenues.

Here are some of the options I see:

We could have “journals” that simply are listings of articles in the archives that the editors consider highlight-worthy. Something like the curated playlists on music streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music. Don’t know what to listen to among the millions of songs? Let an Apple Editor make the choice for you. Don’t know what papers to read among the hundreds on LingBuzz? Let our editorial board guide you.

A considerable step up from that are “overlay journals” (two examples). Here, authors post their manuscripts to an archive and also submit them to the overlay journal, which conducts standard peer-review, asks for revisions, and, perhaps but not necessarily, takes charge of copy-editing and typesetting. Accepted articles are updated on the archive and the journal links to the archived article from its table of contents. I think this is a very promising model.

Another model is to slim down peer-review to the barebones: simply make sure that an article isn’t complete nonsense and then publish basically everything. This is a model of several open access journals. Typically, there are production costs financed through author publication charges. Colin Philips reports positively on the experiences editing such a journal.

There are other possible recombinations of various ingredients of the journal system. I am very excited about the possibilities.

In the spirit of rethinking all aspects of scholarly communication, even a now firmly established journal like S&P should be nimble and consider ways of making things (even) better. Here are some thoughts and questions (my own, not yet discussed with the other members of the editorial team):

  • How can we address the major pain-points in the production process? We do not outsource to disciplinarily naive companies, but rely on graduate student labor. This is not the most time-efficient way of doing things, even if the end-product is superior. If linguists were as proficient as mathematicians or computer scientists in the use of LaTeX, we could probably reduce the time from acceptance to publication, but that doesn’t appear to be a realistic scenario.
  • I think we might highlight articles that have been accepted in a way that reduces the pain of waiting for the official publication. Maybe, S&P’s homepage should link to the author’s final version of accepted papers right away (perhaps even with an assigned DOI). This way, they could be listed on CVs as published, for all intents and purposes.
  • I’d like to think about acknowledging the work of reviewers more openly. Perhaps, reviewers should have the option of being named as having helped a particular paper in the process to publication.

What other things should we think about?

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Zombie Lingua Recruitment

My sources say that Elsevier is now actively trying to recruit scholars for the editorial team of Zombie Lingua (see these Language Log posts for the background: Lingua is dead. Long live Glossa!“, Lingua Disinformation”). Here’s a redacted sample of what they are sending to people:

Subject: Editorial Position Opportunity

Dear Professor […]

First please let me introduce myself as the […] at Elsevier responsible for the Social Science Journals, including our Linguistics portfolio.

I hope you do not mind me contacting you out of the blue like this, but as you may be aware we are currently looking for a new editorial team to head up the journal, Lingua. In discussions regarding this your name was suggested as a potential candidate to be part of this team. If this is something you would be interested in considering and would like to discuss this further, with no obligations, then please let me know. I would be more than happy to provide more details of the role and responsibilities.

Thank you for your time in considering this proposal. I look forward to your reply and hope to discuss this further with you in the near future.

Best regards […]

Needless to say, I’m hoping that the community is sufficiently immunized by now and that Elsevier will fail to attract linguists to stand up a zombie version of Lingua, which would not have any legitimacy as a successor to the journal’s proud tradition. The true successor to Lingua is Glossa.

By the way: Glossa is now open for business. The first few submissions have already been made.

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Lingua Disinformation

Linguists today received a misleading email from Elsevier sent to everyone who has ever submitted to or reviewed for Lingua, the journal whose editorial board has decided to not work with Elsevier anymore and restart the journal as the open-access journal Glossa. Here is Elsevier’s email:

Dear Lingua Authors and Reviewers

As I am sure you are aware, as of the end of December 2015 the current Lingua Senior Editorial team will be standing down from their roles on the journal. Together this team and the Publisher would like to reassure you that while still in post they will continue their work for Lingua as they have always done during their tenure.

Further information regarding the handling of papers from January 2016 onwards will be sent in due course, but should you have any queries or concerns in the meantime please do not hesitate to contact us via the ‘Contact’ button on the journal homepage or via the following email address: .

My colleagues and I would also like to take this opportunity to reaffirm that we remain totally committed to the publication of Lingua as a quality journal serving the field of linguistics and look forward to supporting the journal and the linguistics community for many years to come.

Best Regards

Ann Corney, Publishing Director, Applied Social Sciences, Elsevier Ltd

There has been a lot of puzzlement over this message. Some comments below, but first a message from the interim editors of the successor journal Glossa, which I have been asked to help disseminate:

Dear colleagues,

Those among you who have been authors and/or reviewers for Lingua were sent a message today by Elsevier, and you might wonder about the journal, Glossa, to be set up by the very same editorial team which has contributed to the high reputation of Lingua in the past.

As of the end of December 2015, the current executive and associated editors of Lingua will stand down. The next day, they will be in charge of Glossa. Until that date, the undersigned will be in charge as interim editors of Glossa, (backed up by the entire former editorial board of Lingua which already resigned in October).

In that capacity, we would like to reassure you that Glossa will pick up where Lingua left off. We would also like to draw your attention to the fact that any author has the right to withdraw their submission from any journal as long as the copyright forms have not been signed.

We are currently working on the website (including an online submission system etc.) for Glossa, and will come back to you as soon as it is operational. In the meantime, you can send your questions to both of us.

All best wishes, Waltraud Paul and Guido Vanden Wyngaerd, interim editors of Glossa &

Some comments:

  1. I would like to reiterate that despite the desperate rhetoric in the last sentence of Ms. Corney’s email, there is no way at all that whatever zombie journal Elsevier manages to keep running under the venerable name Lingua will have any moral right to be seen as the continuation of Lingua. Instead, Glossa is the rightful continuation.
  2. I also reiterate my call to the community not to work with Elsevier in propping up Zombie Lingua. Instead, get ready to support Glossa once it’s fully running in January.
  3. Lastly, authors with manuscripts currently under submission to Lingua should consider their options; please contact the interim editors of Glossa with any questions about that.

[In related news, the Open Library of Humanities announced today that in addition to Glossa, three other journals will flip from for-profit models to open access in 2016.]

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Lingua Roundup

In case you’re not glued to social media 24/7, you may have missed some of the coverage of the Lingua → Glossa Affair.

Media coverage after the early Inside Higher Ed article has included:

Yesterday, an Elsevier PR blog posted a mendacious “clarification”. In addition to some of the comments on that post, you can look in other places for the truth:

Elsevier claims that it founded Lingua, that it therefore has the right to the name, that the proposed open access charge of 400 Euros per article is not sustainable. Obviously, Lingua was founded by linguists not by Elsevier. The charge is almost certainly sustainable (in fact, Elsevier has journals that subsist on such a charge). And there are other lies in their statement. (By the way, the PR spokesman is the same person who made some rather revealing statements about women in STEM last year, as pointed out by Curt Rice, linguist and the president of Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences.)

I stand by my call for community action: support the Glossa team, do not agree to help Elsevier stand up a sham Zombie Lingua.

To end with a quote from Mike Taylor:

You know what’s not sustainable? Dragging around the carcass of a legacy barrier-based publisher, with all its expensive paywalls, authentication systems, Shibboleth/Athens/Kerberos integration, lawyers, PR departments, spin-doctors, lobbyists, bribes to politicians, and of course 37.3% profit margins.

The biggest problem with legacy publishers? They’re just a waste of money.

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Lingua → Glossa

There is exciting news from the open access revolution.

[Previously:] A few years ago, I put up some relevant short notes, focussing to some extent on Elsevier’s particularly egregious enmity towards open access: “Attach from big money publishers” and “News from the open access revolution”. Especially relevant is Elsevier’s rear-guard action against open access mandates such as MIT’s, discussed in an informative article by my former colleague Richard Holton. I also published my personal open access policy. In the mean time, the Elsevier Boycott started by our colleagues in mathematics has 15,286 signatories. The fully open access journal Semantics and Pragmatics that I co-founded with David Beaver is thriving and is now the second full journal of the Linguistic Society of America (alongside the flagship journal Language, which has a one year delayed open access policy).

This past month, our colleagues on the editorial team of the venerable journal Lingua proposed to the journal’s publisher Elsevier that Lingua should become a “fair open access journal”. It would charge reasonable, not excessive, article fees, which would be payed by a new consortium, with the result that the journal would be free to readers and authors. Not surprisingly, given Elsevier’s profiteering nature, Elsevier did not agree. In response, the entire editorial team resigned and will start a new open access journal with the same focus and scope as Lingua. Elsevier insisted that they have the rights to the name Lingua (even though the name has historic value and reputation that was created by linguists and not by a publishing company). So, the new journal will be called Glossa, but in the eyes of the community it is the rightful continuation of Lingua. Elsevier will try to start their own new journal, which they will name Lingua, usurping a name that has a lot of associated goodwill because of the hard work of the editors over decades. To me, that is a despicable insult to the linguistics community. A colleague suggested the alternative name “Zombie Lingua” for the Elsevier project, which I hope will stick.

There’s various hopes I have for the near future:

Finishing Lingua’s current business

The current editors of Lingua will finish up their current business over the next few months and will officially step down on December 31. I think the community should support them as best as possible, particularly by finishing any outstanding reviews. Any authors with work under submission to Lingua should strongly consider withdrawing these submissions and resubmitting them to Glossa as soon as that new journal is open for business (which is projected to be in January).

Supporting Glossa

Everyone should support Glossa: submit your best work to it, agree to review for it, help it get ranked and recognized across the academy.

Do not support Zombie Lingua

It won’t come as a surprise from a veteran Elsevier boycotter like me that I think that the community should not assist Elsevier in standing up a new journal that usurps the Lingua goodwill. Do not serve on the editorial team, do not submit articles, do not review for them. I certainly won’t.

I welcome discussion of my recommendations. For further information, there is a largely accurate article at Inside Higher Ed and there is the website of the Ling-OA initiative, which the Lingua/Glossa team is working with.

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Treat your reviewers well

S&P asks its reviewers to overcome the discipline’s culture of procrastination and supply reviews within a default of 4 weeks (sometimes more for especially complex or long papers). We try to repay reviewers in two ways that we consider best practices:

  • Reviewers are copied on editorial decisions. They are sent the editor’s feedback to the author and copies of all the reviews.
  • Reviewers are notified when a paper they worked on for us is published.

Neither practice is as widespread as it should be. In fact, sometimes when we have a new editorial team member, they are skeptical about sharing the entire editorial feedback with the reviewers. It doesn’t take long for them to change their minds when we get the usual enthusiastic feedback from reviewers.

This morning we published a new paper and I spent a few minutes notifying the five reviewers that had worked on various iterations of the article. I just got this response: “Thanks for letting me know. It’s nice of you to do this for reviewers. I wish other journals would follow you too …”

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Get cloaked!

I like to take my devices to coffeeshops and get some work done. I also travel once in a while. At all those times I connect via wireless connections that are far from secure. So, a few months ago I discovered Cloak, a great VPN service that painlessly and automatically secures my net traffic every time I connect to a wireless network that I haven’t explicitly marked as trusted. I have a $2.99/month “mini” subscription that gives me 5GB of data throughput. My laptop, my iPhone, and my iPad are all set up to use the service. Highly recommended!

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