What happened to eLanguage? 18 months on

eLanguage was a beautiful idea. Founded by Dieter Stein and Stephen Anderson, it was an online platform for linguistics e-journals. The cost of hosting and technical support was borne by the LSA, while other things – such as typesetting, proofing, copy-editing and marketing – had to be paid for by the editors or their institutions. From 2011-2013 I was one of those editors, and, since I didn’t have a budget of my own to play with, everything was done on the cheap: I did the copy-editing and marketing (insofar as there was any) myself, and my estimable colleague Moreno Mitrović looked after the typesetting.

For whatever reasons, the LSA decided to discontinue eLanguage – presumably as part of their negotiation to bring Language itself closer to full no-fees OA status. I wasn’t happy with the decision, and neither were many others, but by the time I’d heard about it the decision had already been made. Though you can still find the archives on their website, none of the journals have been accepting new content in this form since the end of 2013. I thought I’d take a quick look at what happened to the “co-journals”, as they were called. These fall into three main categories: some ceased to exist, some were absorbed into Language, and others have struck out on their own.

Ceased to exist

In this category we have:

The former doesn’t really count, since it is the precursor of Pragmatics, and ceased to exist as such long before eLanguage came into being. Its purpose on the site was only ever as an archive. Mesoamerican Languages and Linguistics, on the other hand, was never very active: it only published two articles and one review, between 2008 and 2010. Its demise is thus perhaps unsurprising.

Became part of Language

This category covers:

My own Journal of Historical Syntax published three full papers and three reviews before it merged into Language, not bad considering that it was only set up in mid-2011. After some negotiation, it became an online-only section of Language. The deal is rather similar to eLanguage, with a few crucial differences:

  • We’re paginated as part of Language, and count as such for the purposes of impact factors, etc.
  • We now have the administrative support of the Language team, who deal with the papers once they have been accepted. (This saves me and Moreno a LOT of work.)
  • The copyright agreement is no longer in the CC-BY family, though authors still retain copyright of their work, unlike with most journals.
  • It no longer carries reviews.
  • The Journal of part had to be excised from its name, due to its new non-independence.
  • Most importantly, the materials are now not instantaneously open access. Authors can pay $400 (a lot of money, but chicken feed compared to what the for-profit publishers charge) for instant Gold; otherwise, all content is made available through the LSA website after one year. Since the half-life of a linguistics article is presumably much longer than this, it’s hardly a problem to wait that long. In the meantime, it’s behind a paywall at Project Muse.

To date, three full papers have been published in the Historical Syntax section of Language, with several more on the way.

Teaching Linguistics has followed a similar path; they were established even later and hadn’t published anything as part of eLanguage. Now they have four papers out, two in 2013 and two in 2014.

Historical Syntax and Teaching Linguistics are joined by Language and Public Policy, Phonological Analysis, and Perspectives. These have generated three, one, and two papers respectively (not counting the responses and “Short Shots” that Perspectives has also generated). So all the new sections are healthy, though none incredibly prolific.

Struck out on their own

The journals which took their own path are:

The only one of the batch to move to a commercial publisher is Pragmatics, which is now at John Benjamins and has a similar setup in terms of OA to Language and its sections, including a one-year embargo. Unlike many of the other eLanguage co-journals, Pragmatics was big and established before moving to eLanguage; you can view its extensive archives here.

It’s not immediately clear what’s happened to Studies in African Linguistics. Like Pragmatics, it’s a long-established journal that much predates eLanguage. The archive page proclaims in CAPITAL LETTERS that it is NO LONGER PUBLISHING NEW CONTENT (you can view the old stuff here). However, a quick search reveals that it appears to be alive and well. It’s still fully no-fees gold OA online, which seems to be funded through print subscriptions.

Semantics and Pragmatics is the golden boy of eLanguage, its biggest success story. It has simply continued in its original form: no fees to publish or to read. The LSA still support it, though they also receive funding from MIT and the University of Texas at Austin.

Since they have technology on their side, LiLT have done well for themselves, and like Semantics and Pragmatics have hung on to gold no-fees OA. They’re now simply hosted on a server at Stanford and supported by CSLI. Their back catalogue is here.

Dialogue and Discourse ticks along quietly. They don’t publish much outside their special issues (typically only one article a year), and are hosted at Bielefeld, with no-fees gold OA. They’ve kept their identity and migrated all their back issues to the new site, which is nice.

Constructions appear to have a similar arrangement, hosted using blog software at Osnabrück. Their back issues are here. Sometimes they have a lot of content; at other times, not so much. After producing no articles in 2013, they came back in 2014 with a special issue.

(It’s important to emphasize that by highlighting the sporadic nature of these e-journals I’m not making a criticism. The principle of uniformly-sized little issues was really rather specific to print, an artefact of the Gutenberg parenthesis. It’s neither necessarily healthy nor particularly important for a journal to have a consistent volume of content. If there are ten good 100-page articles one year and only a squib the next, then so be it. Quality over quantity.)

So there’s a diversity of outcomes. Of those journals that survived, the LSA has hung onto relatively few; most are still immediate gold OA, and all are gold after no more than a year. Though the LSA’s decision to drop eLanguage was regrettable, the programme as a whole has made a significant and lasting impact on the linguistics publishing landscape.

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