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.

Achievements 2020

We started our annual retrospectives in 2015 (2016, 2017, 20182019). This is the sixth installment, for 2020.

Books and series

In 2020, we published 30 books, and the second edition of The verb in Nyakyusa as a bonus book.

101 works were proposed to Language Science Press in 2020, for a total of 604. In 2019, 78 works had been proposed.

Evolution of expressions of interest over time. The blue line shows a linear fit.

The following figure gives a breakdown of the distribution of these works and their states of completion

Number of books in LangSci series and their state of completion. Green indicates accepted/published, red indicates (desk) rejection.

The most active series are Studies in Diversity Linguistics (69), Textbooks in Language Sciences (35), EOTMS (25), and Translation and Multilingual Natural Language Processing (24) .

Series

There are currently 27 series (+3). Last year, we accepted three more series: Open German Linguistics, Open Romance Linguistics, and Topics in Phonological Diversity.

Reviewing

The median time from submission to decision is now  97 days (-1). The median time from submission to publication was 257 days (-14).

The acceptance rate (counting desk rejections) is 53.75% (+1.51) over all series. Only considering submissions where the proposal had been previously approved, the acceptance rate is 88.71% (+1.75).

Downloads

In 2020, LangSci pdfs were downloaded 469,848 times (+106,865 compared to 362,983 in 2018), for a grand total of 1,149,905. This excludes downloads by search engine robots.


The most popular work is A aquisição da língua materna e não materna with 61,262 downloads, followed by Einführung in die grammatische Beschreibung des Deutschen (all three editions) with 60,659 downloads, and Grammatical theory (all four editions): 49,497 downloads.

Regional distribution

LangSci books have been accessed from 136 different countries and territories. The following chart gives a breakdown of the percentages of downloads per month for different areas of the world.

Proportion of downloads from different world regions. Africa and the Americas are increasing their share.

Community involvement

Language Science Press is a community enterprise. We rely on the community for authoring and reviewing, but also for typesetting and proofreading. Across all published books, 236 linguists from all over the world have participated in proofreading. The most prolific proofreader is Jeroen van de Weijer, who has proofread chapters of 70 books.
There are currently 453 proofreaders registered with Language Science Press (+53).

For our 27 series, we are happy to be able to rely on 408 members in editorial boards from 49 different countries on 6 continents.

Paperhive

Of the books published in 2020, 27 went through proofreading on Paperhive. A total of 18,372 comments were left, for an average of 680 (median: 675). The book with the most comments was “Multi-verb constructions in Eastern Indonesia” (1355).
The total number of books which have completed proofreading on Paperhive is 103. Total number of comments over all books is 73,158 (mean: 710, median: 647)

CO₂

Due to the pandemic, we only travelled to one conference, 576km return. This was by train and emitted 0g CO₂. We are still unable to quantify our electricity and heating CO₂ footprint.

Finances

We had a revenue of 113,756.15 € (-18,951.76) in 2019 and expenditures of -120,676.92 € (+675.17). The main cost items are personnel (89,772.25 €), service providers (19,245.13 €), rent (5,752.10 €), book copies (3,825.57€), travel (1,244.21€), and gear (2,557.79€). A total of five different employees of four different nationalities have received a salary from Language Science Press (none of them full time, and only two of them 12 months).

Cost items for the year 2020. Personnel is about 75%.

Given that our expenditures remained stable at 120k, as did the number of books we published (30), we again arrive at a very round figure of 4000€ to produce one book (See here for an overview of costs elsewhere, ranging from 8k to 18k€).

The lion’s share of our revenue comes from institutional memberships via Knowledge Unlatched (105,000 €). 7,295,75 € come from print margins, the rest is diverse.

Note that none of theses figures includes VAT.

Collecting reader feedback with PaperHive, docLoop and GitHub

Back in 2017, we wrote a blog post on fluid publication. This explained the development of a book by the author together with the readership, reusing techniques well-known from software development.

The author 1) starts with a draft version, collects feedback from colleagues, and then the stages of 2) (open) review, 3) acceptance, 4) community proofreading and finally 5) publication of the first edition follow. A history of the different versions is kept on GitHub. GitHub also provides functionalities to manage lists of open issues which still have to be addressed before the next stage can be initiated.

As detailed in various posts on this blog, we use PaperHive for community proofreading. Today, we can showcase docLoop, which allows us to transform the community comments into todo lists on GitHub, closing the loop from author to reader and back from the reader to the author.

Let’s look at an example, Voice at the interfaces: The syntax, semantics, and morphology of the Hebrew verb by Itamar Kastner. We can see the progress of this book on its GitHub page. The book was started in June 2018 and finalised in June 2020. Between the setup of the project and the publication, we count 259 different versions. Next to the author itamarkast, who provided 227 improved versions, kopeckyf and Glottotopia from the LangSci team provided 24 and 3 commits, respectively.

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Interview with Jeroen van de Weijer, #1 in the LangSci Hall of Fame for community proofreaders

Jeroen, you started community proofreading in June 2017 and have participated in 52 published books up to now. You are #1 in the LangSci Hall of Fame.

What were your motivations to sign up as a community proofreader? How did you hear about this possibility?

I think I saw a book in the series and browsed the website–partly out of linguistic interest, and partly as a supporter of open access. I have been editing books and journals for many years, so I like this kind of activity and have gotten a bit of an eye for things that may go wrong in linguistic texts. It’s very nice if you can, once in a while, prevent an author from making a mistake where they forgot a not (or a crucial comma, haha) – it’s nice to make things better, even if it’s only a little.

How do you like the process so far? What have your experiences been?

I like the process. “Crowd-reading” like this is a good idea. Sometimes I read comments by other proofreaders, and note that they do things differently than me. Apparently that’s not a problem, and further streamlining is probably neither necessary nor really warranted (maybe references could still be automatically improved, or American vs British vs Australian English spelling). It’s up to the author, of course, to see what they do with the corrections and comments, and it’s nice to think that a text could still be further improved at some point in the future. Perhaps we can have an evaluation some time.

Could you tell us how you go about a new chapter when you receive it?

I dive right in. I always read the acknowledgements (who doesn’t?), but then I turn to the assigned chapter, start at page 1 and don’t usually stop until I’m at the end. Because of the time difference I often read early in the morning, when I can work for a few hours at a stretch.

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Prepublication of chapters in edited volumes

Edited volumes and time to publication

Edited volumes are an important type of publication in linguistics, and Language Science Press has published about 50 edited volumes up to now. However, the time to publication is normally an issue for edited volumes given the larger number of contributors. In a project with 12 contributors, chances are that at least one of them will not hand in the chapter, the revision or the proofs in time, which delays the whole project.

This leads to a vicious circle: everybody knows that probably the volume will be late anyway, so authors adjust their priorities and focus on some other work where the timing is more critical. Which delays the work even more, so everybody adjusts their priorities again and so on. When I was still actively publishing as a linguist, I had a paper in a volume which took 5 years to come out!

This whole problem arises because the book and all its chapters will only be published once the last chapter is in. Otherwise, page numbers cannot be assigned and cross-references will not work.

Our solution

Our series Open Slavic Linguistics was unhappy with this state of affairs and suggested that book chapters can be published ahead of the volume, as so-called prepublications. This means that all chapters which have been reviewed, revised, proofread, and typeset can be made available on our website. The setup of our LaTeX class allows to compile the same chapter either individually or as part of a book. As for the pagination problem, we simply set the page numbers to roman and add a note to the footer that the page numbering is preliminary. That way, readers are not led to mistakenly cite Smith (2020: 12) for a chapter which will have a final pagination much higher than 12.

Footer of the prepublished version of a chapter with information about the volume the chapter will appear in and a note on pagination

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Two new series on multilingualism

Linguists have always known about the importance of contact between different ethnic and cultural groups. These encounters have shaped our societies, our cultures, and thereby also our language. With two new series on multilingualism, we provide new scientific outlets which can inform current debates in society at large and contribute scientific facts and models to the discussions. These two series complement each other nicely: 
Current Issues in Bilingualism edited by Andrea C. Schalley (Karlstad), M Carmen Parafita Couto (Leiden), Susana A. Eisenchlas (Griffith), Galina Putjata (Münster), and Jorge Valdés Kroff (Florida) – publishes both theoretical and empirical studies on individual and societal bilingualism, and hence bridges the gap that has traditionally been reflected in different approaches to the field. It covers both linguistic and cognitive as well as educational, affective, and social aspects of speakers’ bilinguality.
Contact and Multilingualism edited by Isabelle Léglise & Stefano Manfredi (both CNRS SeDyL)  on the other hand looks at multilingual practices and language contact both at individual and societal levels together with historical, socio-anthropological and typological issues

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An interview with Berkeley’s Larry Hyman, author of seven chapters in five LangSci books

Larry, you have authored altogether 7 chapters in 5 LangSci books in 4 different series (see list below). That sounds very versatile! Can you give us some background on those chapters and what ties them together?

Yes, I guess you could say that my interests are wide-ranging, which I enumerate on the Berkeley Linguistics website as phonological theory, language typology, and African languages, especially Bantu and Niger-Congo. I think what ties them together is that I am always thinking about typology, about how languages are the same vs. different. I’m fascinated with the variation among related languages which respond differently to the same conflicting concerns, often involving interfaces between phonology and grammar. This is the case in my article in the Enfield collection, where I contrasted intra-phonological dependencies with the possibility that there could be non-accidental dependences between phonology, morphology, and syntax. The other six chapters derive from my deep involvement with individual and comparative African linguistics, where I go after whatever strikes me as interesting and important.

Given my extensive work on tone systems, it is perhaps surprising that none of the LangSci publications have to do with tone. In more than one occasion I have set out to work on a new tone system (there’s nothing more exciting than studying a language from scratch!), but I quickly am distracted by something unusual and hence intriguing in the grammar. This is the case, for example, in the joint article on Lusoga multiple exponence. The three comparative chapters in the Watters volume as well as the multiple argument chapter in Bisang & Malchukov synthesize my personal field work on several dozen Bantoid, especially Grassfields Bantu languages, in Cameroon, where I could not help becoming involved in reconstructing proto systems as well as the historical developments our Grassfields Bantu Working Group documented language to language, dialect to dialect.

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Our Community Proofreading setup evaluated by Library Science

The Berlin School of Library and Information Science has had a theoretical look at the way proofreading is organised at Language Science Press, resulting in a BA thesis by Lole Westedt entitled

Community Proofreading am Beispiel Language Science Press: „Gratis-Korrekturlesen“ oder auch inhaltlich anreichernd?
[Community proofreading as used by Language Science Press:  Only cost-free copy-editing, or also additional improvement of content?]

This study evaluates in how far the way we integrate the community in the proofreading of our books via PaperHive can be seen as a type of (content) open review, and what types of community comments we find (typos, wording, specialist suggestions). We have described our approach to community proofreading in a couple of blog posts:

This thesis by Lole Westedt puts our efforts in a broader context and finds that, actually, what we call “Community Proofreading” meets 6 out of 7 criteria of Ross-Hellauer‘s list of Open Review dimensions:

  1. Open identities: Authors and reviewers are aware of each other’s identity
  2. Open reports: Review reports are published alongside the relevant article.
  3. Open participation: The wider community are able to contribute to the review process.
  4. Open interaction: Direct reciprocal discussion between author(s) and reviewers, and/or between reviewers, is allowed and encouraged.
  5. Open pre-review manuscripts: Manuscripts are made immediately available (e.g., via preprint servers like arXiv) in advance of any formal peer review procedures.
  6. Open final-version commenting: Review or commenting on final “version of record” publications.
  7. Open platforms: Review is de-coupled from publishing in that it is facilitated by a different organizational entity than the venue of publication.

Westedt then had a look at a sample of 10 books, from which she selected 1 chapter each and analysed the comments she found.

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