Lingua is dead. Long live Glossa!

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[This is a joint post by Eric Baković and Kai von Fintel. Much of the content of this post is also found in Kai's posts on his own blog, semantics etc.: "Lingua → Glossa" (11/2/2015) and "Lingua Roundup" (11/5/2015).]

As many readers of Language Log know by now, the editors and the entire editorial board of a major linguistics journal, Lingua, have resigned en masse, effective when their contractual obligations to their soon-to-be-erstwhile publisher, Elsevier, are concluded at the end of this calendar year. This same editorial team will re-emerge in 2016 as the editors and editorial board of Glossa, a fair Open Access journal to be published by Ubiquity Press. You can read all about it, if you haven't already, from a variety of sources linked at the end of this post.

Before resigning, the editorial team proposed to Elsevier that Lingua should become a fair Open Access journal: that the editorial board own the title of the journal, that authors retain copyright of their articles, that all articles be free to all readers, and that article processing charges be low, transparent, and in proportion to the work carried out by the publisher. Elsevier did not agree to this proposal, and insisted that they have the rights to the name Lingua. This is why 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 many decades. We view this move as disingenuous and deceitful, and as a disservice to the field. The alternative name Zombie Lingua for the Elsevier project has been proposed, and we hope it will stick.

The main purpose of this post is to repeat and amplify these calls for community action:

  1. Support Glossa. Submit your best work to it, agree to review for it, help it get ranked and recognized across the academy.
  2. Do not support Zombie Lingua. 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.

And if you're willing to heed these calls, perhaps you're also willing to heed these:

  1. Support Fair Open Access in Linguistics. The resignation of the Lingua editorial team and the foundation of Glossa are part of a larger movement. Sign the petition!
  2. Boycott Elsevier. Do not publish, referee, or do any editorial work for Elsevier journals. Add your name to the list!

If you are a subscription journal editor, a member of a subscription journal's editorial board, or somehow involved or invested in a subscription journal's future, we hope you will be motivated to consider the following questions:

  1. What is your journal's mission? To what extent do your journal's subscription costs and publication agreements line up with what you think its scholarly communication mission should be? If they deviate substantially, then:
  2. Does your journal want fair Open Access? Initiate a discussion amongst the editorial team about the pros and cons of making the move to fair Open Access. If you're ready to make this move, or if you just need more information, visit

Finally, since there will very likely be major upheavals in the journal landscape in the next few years, with new journals being started and old journals withering away, everyone who is involved in evaluating the research quality of especially young scholars should make sure to assess the quality of the actual work rather than being influenced by the perceived prestige of the venue. There are two "manifestos" that everyone evaluating research should read and take to heart:

Lingua is dead. Long live Glossa!

Links to some other discussions of this event:

There's also the APLU Statement on Resignation of Lingua’s Editors & Editorial Board Members in Protest of Elsevier's Pricing Policies (11/2/2015), Elsevier's public response ("Addressing the resignation of the Lingua editorial board", 11/4/2015), reactions to the latter by Martin Paul Eve ("Clarifying a few facts for Elsevier and their response to Lingua", 11/5/2015), Mike Taylor ("'The editor had requested a price of 400 euros, an APC that is not sustainable'", 11/5/2014), and Jacob Berg ("Parsing Elsevier: Lingua and Open Access", 11/5/2015) as well as an Inside Higher Ed follow-up article ("Elsevier Battle Escalates", 11/6/2015). Further blog posts include "Traditional legal academic publishing to tumble?" (Real Lawyers Have Blogs, 11/6/2015) and "Open Access and the Power of Editorial Boards: Why Elsevier Plays Hardball with Deviant Linguists" (governance across borders, 11/7/2015).

This isn't the first time that an editorial team has declared its independence from its (former) publisher; for a comprehensive list and links to more information in each case, stretching back to 1989, see Peter Suber's "Journal declarations of independence" page — the case of LinguaGlossa is at the bottom.

Finally, see also "Academic Journals: The Most Profitable Obsolete Technology in History" (Huffington Post, 12/23/2014), reblogged on SAS Confidential (11/6/2015).

[ Update, 11/11/2015: Further relevant coverage on American Libraries ("Elsevier and Open Access Journals, 11/10/2015) and ProfHacker ("Introducing Open Library of the Humanities, 11/10/2015). ]

[ Update 2, 11/16/2015: Financial Times ("Elsevier leads the business the internet could not kill", 11/15/2015) and Unravelling Magazine ("Leaves of gold: An interview with Johan Rooryck", 11/16/2015). ]


  1. Chas Belov said,

    November 8, 2015 @ 10:47 pm

    Years ago I took part in an Amateur Press Association, initially called Lingua, which discussed language. The publication was at cost and circulation was perhaps 30. The Official Editor got a letter from Elsevier telling us to stop using the name. We wound up changing the name of the APA to Linguica as we figured nobody would sue us for naming our publication after a Portuguese sausage.

  2. Jon Lennox said,

    November 8, 2015 @ 10:52 pm

    Would trolling Zombie Lingua, by submitting articles about language use by zombies, be appropriate?

  3. Andrew D said,

    November 9, 2015 @ 2:45 am

    There is a write-up about this on the blog surapod vertabra picture of the week here:-

    [ Thanks, Andrew D, but please note that this link was already provided among the (admittedly long) set of links at the end the post:

    Mike Taylor ("'The editor had requested a price of 400 euros, an APC that is not sustainable'", 11/5/2014)

    — EB ]

  4. Nick Z said,

    November 9, 2015 @ 3:45 am

    Rather a witty name (Greek glo:ssa 'tongue, language' = Latin lingua 'tongue, language'). I hope too much confusion won't be caused by the fact there's already a journal of (Classical) linguistics called Glotta (a dialectal variant of glo:ssa).

    [ Not much chance for confusion there, I think, but there are two other journals that have been named Glossa. One is a linguistics journal that has been defunct since 1985 (see here), and the other is "an interdisciplinary journal" (see here) that has been inactive since 1985 (as already noted in the comments here.

    The first of these published a number of articles that I consult regularly; in fact, I currently have several volumes of the journal borrowed from my library in my office. I'll be glad to see the same name on this new journal.

    — EB ]

  5. Bruce said,

    November 9, 2015 @ 5:29 am

    Ever since I was a doctoral student at the University of Maryland at College Park 30 years back, I heard bad things about Elsevier. Books, not very big with very steep price tags. In my case, a textbook on Lie Group and Lie Algebras from them, besides pricey — one of my classmates weeded out many mistakes he claimed to have found. So in his view at least you didn't even get quality for the steep price tag.

    Is sort of thing behind the "dump Elsevier" sentiment I'm hearing here?

  6. leoboiko said,

    November 9, 2015 @ 8:56 am

    @Bruce: The price tag is pure brand, because they know that university libraries "must" have their data and will suck it up. (Therefore the eagerness to keep famous names such as Lingua ). Elsevier knows they're going down, and they're cashing their cows hard while they can. It's a publisher whose business model is to deliberately prevent the public from accessing publicly-funded scientific knowledge. They literally profit by enlarging the cultural divide and hindering social progress.

  7. James Wimberley said,

    November 9, 2015 @ 9:17 am

    The Cambridge mathematician Tim Gowers launched a boycott of Elsevier journals in his field several years ago. Gowers' site, boycott site.

    [ Thanks, James Wimberley, but please note that a link to Gowers' boycott site was prominently provided in the post:

    Boycott Elsevier. Do not publish, referee, or do any editorial work for Elsevier journals. Add your name to the list!

    — EB ]

  8. Martin Haspelmath said,

    November 9, 2015 @ 11:53 am

    I applaud the courage and resolve of the editors of Lingua, and I look forward to supporting Glossa, but I wonder what is meant by the idea that publication fees should be "in proportion to the work carried out by the publisher". Elsevier would probably claim that their prices are not exorbitant, compared to similar offers by other commercial publishers. The reason the prices are so high is that there isn't any (and cannot be any) functioning market, so it seems to me that the key advantage of Glossa is not the fair prices, but the freedom to leave Ubiquity Press. Thus, instead of "fair open access", we should probably emphasize the "free open access", or "scholar-owned open access" that is gained in this way. I have written more about this here:

  9. James Wimberley said,

    November 10, 2015 @ 2:36 pm

    Sloppy of me, but I read your link in the context as referring to a linguistics boycott. Academics should be given personal credit for their work, even when it's done with a pitchfork on the barricades.

    [ So a direct link to the source (which needn't be followed; a simple mouse-over will do the trick on most browser settings) isn't sufficient? What's next? Are you going to troll Gowers's own blog and tell him he needs a citation (or at least a link) for his reference (albeit indirect) to Zombie Lingua?

    "A nice term has been coined for what Lingua (that is, the Elsevier version) is about to become: a zombie journal."

    — EB ]

  10. Crprod said,

    November 11, 2015 @ 6:11 pm

    My wife recently retired after more than three decades of working in library technical services at a major research university. She and her coworkers had referred to Elseviet as "the evil empire" for many years.

  11. Carole Chaski said,

    November 12, 2015 @ 9:24 am

    I would suggest that another open access publisher University of Pittsburgh offers a great platform and price structure, as well as an incredibly helpful staff through the University Library Services (ULS). The Institute for Linguistic Evidence's journal LESLI: Linguistic Evidence in Security, Law, and Intelligence is published in this way. Before deciding to work with ULS at U Pitt, we looked at many many publishers. By working with U Pitt, we are able to make LESLI available electronically, with open access and NO FEES FOR THE AUTHOR. Some "open access" journals charge such excessive fees to the author that it really limits the future of scholarly publishing.

  12. Aste honetako loturak (weekly) - FiloBlogiaFiloBlogia said,

    November 15, 2015 @ 2:32 am

    […] Language Log » Lingua is dead. Long live Glossa! […]

  13. Eric Baković said,

    November 16, 2015 @ 7:38 pm

    Thank you for your comment, Carole, and for drawing our collective attention to the advantages you've experienced publishing with ULS at U Pitt.

    I have to take issue with three interrelated things that you imply in that comment.

    The first concerns your use of scare quotes around "open access" with regard to OA journals that charge fees to authors, implying that the imposition of such fees makes a journal somehow not (or less than) OA. Yes, it's true that many of those can be excessive; I don't think anyone is arguing otherwise. Whether those fees are high or low, however, the end result is that the research is free to readers, and this is exactly what OA is about. (If you'd like to propose another term to refer to "free to authors as well as to readers", feel free, but please don't co-opt OA for this purpose.) You may find it useful to read Stuart Shieber's post about the fundamental economic difference between authors and readers in a reader-pays vs. author-pays world; in a nutshell, readers who choose not to subscribe to more expensive subscription journals lose access to some research, whereas authors who choose not to pay excessive publication fees can still get their (peer-reviewed) research published somewhere.

    The second concerns the implication that ULS at U Pitt has somehow figured out how to get away with no-cost publishing, and that's simply false. They claim to offer "publishing services at a very low cost", and that may be true, but low cost ≠ no cost, so someone is bearing the costs of publication (whatever those may be). Though they don't explain what those costs are or who is paying for them, we can assume that some portion of U Pitt's library budget is dedicated to that. That's fantastic, but it is important to remember that there are costs and that they are being borne.

    Finally, your comment as a whole appears to imply that the venture that Glossa is now embarking on will involve costs to authors. While Kai and I did not discuss this in our post, this is absolutely not the case. The editorial team is committed to working with a publisher who is transparent about their costs and who can keep them low; Ubiquity Press explains how they accomplish both here. Moreover, the LingOA non-profit foundation of which Glossa will be a part has an explicit long-term plan in place to have those (transparently low) costs covered on behalf of authors:

    The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) has endorsed LingOA. The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research NWO and the Association of Dutch Universities (VSNU) have recently pledged considerable financial guarantees to cover the article processing charges for the first five years.

    Academic articles will be published by Ubiquity Press with the Open Library of Humanities as a long-term sustainability partner. OLH, whose platform is also provided by Ubiquity Press, will guarantee the continued publication of the journals associated with LingOA after the first five years through its consortial library funding model. OLH is a charitable organisation dedicated to publishing Open Access scholarship with no author-facing APCs ( This will provide long-term sustainability for Fair Open Access journals, ensuring that no researcher will ever have to pay for APCs out of their own pocket.

  14. Nick Lindsay said,

    November 19, 2015 @ 11:04 am

    Journal editors may wish to consider The MIT Press and its extensive experience in open access publishing when reviewing options for OA. With Volume 39 in 2009, MIT Press, with generous support from its publishing partner The Association for Computational Linguistics, moved the journal Computational Linguistics to OA. The journal, which is the longest-running publication devoted exclusively to the design and analysis of natural language processing systems, was made open with no article processing charges, since publication is funded by the parent society. Another MITP journal, Innovations moved to OA in 2014, and Asian Development Review, went OA in the mid 2000s. In 2016, the Press will be launching two new gold OA journals, including Open Mind: Discoveries in Cognitive Science edited by Dick Aslin, Director of the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging. Open Mind will focus on the rapid publication of short, high-impact articles across all sub-domains of cognitive science. The journal will have a modest APC of $950. In addition to low institutional subscription pricing, all MIT Press journals support author-paid open access on an article-by-article basis (so called “hybrid OA”, with an APC of $1,250).

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