More Zombie Lingua shenanigans

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[This is a joint post by Eric Baković and Kai von Fintel.]

Regular Language Log readers will be familiar with our continuing coverage of the goings-on at what we in the linguistics community have given the name Zombie Lingua — the Elsevier journal once universally known by its still-official name, Lingua — a journal that we believe should have been allowed to die a respectable death when its entire editorial board resigned en masse at the end of 2015 to start the new (and flourishing!) fair Open Access journal Glossa, published by Ubiquity Press.

Instead, Elsevier chose to prop the old journal up, dust it off, and continue to publish articles. The first few months to a year of Zombie Lingua's macabre semi-existence were helped along by the fact that there was a backlog of already-accepted articles, as well as expected articles for special issues that had already seen some articles published — and also by the astonishingly quick acceptance and publication of other articles in the revision backlog. The then-interim editor-in-chief, Harry Whitaker, must have been very eager to clear the decks and start off with a clean slate — and to keep the flow of publications going, of course, lest the journal be truly dead.

Whitaker is now officially co-editor-in-chief along with Marta Dynel, and they have recently authored an editorial announcing the direction in which they say they are now taking the journal. Whitaker and Dynel claim that Zombie Lingua is "returning to its roots" of "General Linguistics and cognate branches", which they implicitly and disingenuously contrast with what Lingua had been publishing under the previous editorship. (See also this "publisher's note", where the journal's return-to-roots is boastfully claimed to be "the reality of the future.")

To those who have been keeping tabs on what has been published entirely under the current Zombie Lingua editorship, the editorial reads more like a defense of an internal decision to lower their editorial standards. In what is perhaps the most egregious case, the editors finally withdrew a published article that was clearly plagiarized — though reluctantly and after an unforgivably protracted period, and without acknowledgement of the charge of plagiarism.

It's also worth noting that the Zombie Lingua editorial board that has been assembled has both expanded and contracted over time — contracted because a few new members had second thoughts, (re-)weighed the pros and cons, and decided that an extra line on their CV wasn't worth lending their support to a journal that is dead in the eyes of a healthy portion of the field and that has quite obviously lowered their editorial standards. Those who have chosen to stay either have explicitly made the opposite calculus or just don't appear to care one way or the other. That's their right, of course, but we stand in judgment. (In reply to an email from us, one of the current board members wrote that "We should consider ourselves lucky that publishers deign to even touch our work." Wow.)

The bulk of the linguistics community has rallied behind Glossa and against
Zombie Lingua
, heeding the call to support the former (with our submissions and reviewing time) and to starve the latter. In responding to review requests from Zombie Lingua, a number of our colleagues have explicitly indicated their reasons for turning down the request. The editors have been duly forwarding some of these to Chris Pringle, the Executive Publisher of Zombie Lingua, who has responded by taking precious time out of his executive schedule to reply directly (and at some length) to our colleagues, relating Elsevier's "side" of the story of Lingua/Glossa.

Some of Pringle's messages have made their way to Glossa's (and Lingua's former) editor, Johan Rooryck. In the interests of transparency, Rooryck has posted this correspondence on his website, including Rooryck's subsequent exchanges with Pringle. Since the issues under discussion concern the reasons for and methods by which Rooryck and his editorial team resigned from Lingua, Rooryck has also included a point-by-point refutation of Pringle's allegations, as well as a comprehensive collection of Rooryck's correspondence with Elsevier in late 2015, both leading up to the editorial board's resignation and in its aftermath. (The current contents of this page on Rooryck's website have also been included at the end of this post.)

One has to wonder what Pringle thinks that he, Zombie Lingua, or Elsevier stand to gain from these personalized replies to review request rejections. Pringle must somehow believe that the hearts and minds of our colleagues can be won back by "correcting the record" on a dispute that he characterizes as being between a petulant journal editor and the journal's patronizing publisher. But, as Rooryck's documentation makes abundantly clear, this was an attempted negotiation between the full editorial board of the journal, entirely responsible for the vetting and shepherding of its content, and the journal's publisher, entirely responsible for charging readers too much for subscriptions to particularly-formatted versions of this content and authors too much for the apparent privilege of publishing individual articles in Open Access (with no compensatory discount on subscriptions, mind you – this is what has been properly called 'double-dipping').

In sum, there can be little doubt that Zombie Lingua continues to be the walking dead.

Current content of Johan Rooryck's Interaction with Elsevier page (as of 8/17/2017)

    The 2017 Elsevier campaign

  1. My point-by-point, fact-checking-style refutation of allegations made by Elsevier's Executive Publisher Chris Pringle about the Lingua/Glossa transition in mails (e.g. 3 and 4 below) written to invited Lingua reviewers who decline to do reviews because of the transition to Glossa.
  2. My correspondence with Chris Pringle (Executive Publisher, Elsevier) regarding his message to Reviewer 2, 8 August 2017.
  3. Mail from Chris Pringle (Executive Publisher, Elsevier) to Declining Lingua Reviewer 2.
  4. Mail from Chris Pringle (Executive Publisher, Elsevier) to Declining Lingua Reviewer 1.
  5. An attempt to rewrite history in an editorial by Chris Pringle (Executive Publisher, Elsevier) for the publisher in Lingua 194 (July 2017), and my Facebook reply to it.
  6. My refutation of claims made at ARCL 2017 regarding Elsevier's APC proposal to the Lingua editors.
  7. October–November 2015

  8. My mail to Elsevier of 5 November 2015, requesting rectification of Tom Reller's (Vice President and Head of Global Corporate Relations, Elsevier) public statement about the resignation of the Lingua editorial board on 4 November 2015.
  9. The correspondence about the Lingua Editorial Board's collective resignation between Guido Vanden Wyngaerd, for the Board, and Chris Tancock (Senior Publisher, Elsevier), 27 October 2015.
  10. My letter of resignation of 26 October 2015. The other editors sent similar letters.
  11. Elsevier's response of 16 October 2015, signed by Chris Tancock (Senior Publisher, Elsevier) to the Lingua editorial team's letter of renegotiation of 7 October 2015.
  12. Mail correspondence with David Clark, Senior Vice President, Elsevier, of 16 October 2015, following up on our meeting at the European Commission Workshop Alternative Open Access Publishing Models: Exploring New Territories in Scholarly Communication. Brussels, 12 October 2015.
  13. The Lingua editorial team's letter of renegotiation to Elsevier to publish Lingua in Open Access on (what is now known as) Fair Open Access Principles, 7 October 2015.


  1. Smut Clyde said,

    August 18, 2017 @ 4:05 am

    "Clearly plagiarised" link is dysfunctional.

    [Thanks — fixed, as are others with similar issues. –EB]

  2. Bjorn said,

    August 18, 2017 @ 11:12 am

    I'm no fan of Elsevier, and I very much applaud the resignation of the board and formation of Glossa, but the first point of Rooryck's "fact-checking refutation" is utterly absurd and disingenuous. In Rooryck's email (item #11 above), he very clearly states that "the conditions presented by the Lingua editors are not negotiable. Either they are all met or not." In his refutation, then, he seems to suggest that somehow Elsevier should have known that they were just blustering about the demand being non-negotiable, and were open to negotiation on that point. That is an argument utterly without merit.

    [I can't speak for Johan, but I urge you to read his initial letter to Elsevier (item #12 above). That letter strongly suggests that the editorial team was open to negotiation. Considering that 9 days had passed between that initial letter and the message in item #11 — which itself alludes to an in-person conversation in Brussels that happened about half-way between — there are three types of conclusion one can draw. One is the uncharitable one that you offer here, which suggests that Johan has effectively (and irrationally) incriminated himself with his own transparency. The other two are more charitable, and consistent with the view that Johan is rational: (1) that the conversation in Brussels went very badly, with Elsevier effectively laughing off the editorial team's terms, and (2) that some modified set of terms were arrived at during the conversation in Brussels, and that those new terms were felt to be non-negotiable. I think it's safe to assume here, as I do, that one of the two rational options is more likely. –EB]

  3. DWalker07 said,

    August 18, 2017 @ 1:14 pm

    From what I have read, I agree with MOST of what the LL contributors say about Zombie Lingua.

    However: With quotes like "Elsevier chose to prop the old journal up, dust it off, and continue to publish articles" from this blog post, and the quote "Zombie Lingua, the illegitimate continuation of the journal Lingua that Elsevier has propped up after Lingua's entire editorial team left to start the fair open access journal Glossa" from, one question comes to mind:

    Even though the entire editorial board resigned en masse to start a new journal: Since Elsevier apparently owns the title "Lingua", WHY is their continuation "illegitimate"? Just because LL bloggers (and perhaps the "rest" of the language community) don't like Lingua any more?

    I remember reading about this back when it happened. If Lingua had a backlog of articles to publish, and if they continued to accept new articles to publish, why are they being "starved" for reviewing talent?

    Their new articles might be perfectly fine. Does the LL community want all of Elsevier to die? Does the LL community want Elsevier to never publish any language-related journals? Did someone fail to apologize for upsetting some linguists? It seems weird to engage in a vendetta against a journal whose board resigned to start a new journal.

  4. DWalker07 said,

    August 18, 2017 @ 1:35 pm

    Well, I re-read some of the past history of this, and I lean toward agreeing with the LL community.

    But I hate to see situations where side A says that side B "rebuffed our request for a meeting", and side B says "we did not rebuff a request for a meeting; we offered to meet"; sheesh, when that happens, why can't the two sides just meet already?

    Oh well, that's old history.

  5. Eric Baković said,

    August 18, 2017 @ 7:21 pm

    I typically choose to respond to LL comments on my own posts with notes in the comments themselves, but I'd like to address DWalker07's first set of comments separately and more thoroughly (in spite of his/her apparent change of heart in the second set of comments). I think the questions raised in that first set of comments are entirely valid and probably representative of a lot of readers' concerns with our coverage of the Lingua/Glossa affair here at Language Log, so I'd like to address them here.

    I want to start out by making it clear (although I probably don't need to) that contributors to Language Log are not journalists; we have day jobs as academic linguists, and we do this blogging thing mostly for fun. Sometimes that fun is a bit more on the inside baseball, I-guess-you-had-to-be-there side, sometimes it is more outward-facing. Our coverage of this particular topic is primarily directed at readers who care about scholarly publishing. It also both implicitly represents and explicitly expresses a point of view about scholarly publishing that Kai and I agree on (along with others here at Language Log, probably, but I'll limit myself to the co-authors of the relevant posts).

    The way we see it is this: Elsevier severely overcharges both readers (for subscriptions) and authors (for the privilege of Open Access), not because they offer some special whizz-bang publishing experience that is worth the extra money, but simply because they are motivated by profit — and rationally so. But we believe that the profit motive has no place in scholarly publishing. So, we enthusiastically support efforts like the flip from Lingua to Glossa, and we take advantage of the opportunity to rain our disdain upon — and also, we hope, to thwart — the profit-seekers' attempts to keep the old journal's name going under new management.

    So no, nobody pissed off some linguists. It's just that our libraries are kinda tired of paying for access to research that they already paid us to do in the first place.

  6. CUPped: Relevant Organs, Tudor zombies join forces, attack | jichang lulu said,

    August 23, 2017 @ 10:46 am

    […] Eric Baković and Kai von Fintel have been covering it on Language Log. Their latest piece ('More Zombie Lingua shenanigans') links to raw correspondence with Elsevier […]

  7. DWalker07 said,

    August 29, 2017 @ 12:50 pm

    @Eric Bakovic: Thanks for that explanation. The info you gave is pretty much lost in most of LL's coverage.

    And thanks for pointing out that LL is run by linguists and not journalists; that helps. Yes, I did have a slight change of heart between my own two posts above. :-)

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