Interview with Martin Haspelmath, co-founder of Language Science Press, on two new book series

Martin, you started the project of a scholar-owned press in 2013, together with Stefan Müller. How did you get involved in Language Science Press, and what can you tell us about the developments and your experience?

Martin Haspelmath

One day in 2012, I received a message from Stefan Müller (then at FU Berlin), who asked me if I wanted to get involved in a project for bottom-up open-access publication in linguistics. We had not met before, as we belong to somewhat different communities (I’m a typologist, and Stefan mostly works on the formal syntax of German), but after our first meeting, we felt that there was enough common ground to start a project. It took over a year to set everything up: In 2013, we received start-up funding from the DFG, and our first book came out in 2014. That was an exciting time, and we were happy to be supported by a lot of colleagues right from the beginning. Stefan has amazing technical and design abilities, and he was persuaded by key aspects of my strategic vision. We had hoped that our publishing imprint would be a big success, but in hindsight, the success was bigger than we could have realistically expected. To a large extent, this was of course because we found exactly the right person to manage our day-to-day operations 🙂 On the other hand, it was a bit of a disappointment that our model was not copied more often by others. Open-access publication is becoming more and more common, but most of it is top-down, with the big commercial publishers controlling most aspects. So Language Science Press is still a very special enterprise.

As of today, your series Studies in Diversity Linguistics has 32 published books and 105 expressions of interest. How do you cope with that interest and demand?

That’s indeed a good question – and sometimes I don’t (some authors will know what I mean, because I don’t always reply super fast). Due to my position at a prestigious Max Planck Institute, my name is very well known, so this generates trust and interest in the series that I started, I think. Ideally, the work would be distributed over more shoulders. On the other hand, I have more time than most of my colleagues as my position does not involve teaching, so I feel a particular obligation to invest my time in service to the community. For the task of reviewing submitted books, I have developed a somewhat novel approach, which has helped especially for voluminous grammars: Instead of asking a single colleague to review a 600-page work, I ask 24 colleagues to review a 50-page chapter (so that in the end, every chapter is read by two colleagues). This means a lot of correspondence, but as I do it in the traditional way (not via an automated system), this is also quite nice at a personal level.