Open Access Handbooks in Linguistics!

« previous post | next post »

A couple of weeks ago, I wrung my hands on Facebook over the proliferation of commercial publishers' Handbooks of Linguistics. These are usually priced out of individuals' budgets, being sold mostly to university libraries, and the thousands of hours of work poured into them by dedicated linguists are often lost behind a paywall, inaccessible to many of the people who would most like to read them.

That post prompted a flood of urgent discussion; it seemed like this was a thought that was being simultaneously had around the world. (Indeed, Kai von Fintel had posted the identical thought about six months prior; probably that butterfly was the ultimate cause of the veritable hurricane  that erupted on my feed.)

Long story short, a few weeks later we now have a proto-editorial board and are on to the next steps of identifying a venue and a business model for the series. Please check out our announcement below the fold, and follow along on our blog for updates as the series develops!

An Open Access Initiative for Linguistics Handbooks

October 4, 2016

We are extremely pleased to announce the formation of an editorial board for the new series Open Handbooks in Linguistics. We are committed to creating a high-quality venue for the publication of linguistics handbooks that is completely open access. We consider the open access publishing model to be especially important for handbooks for the following reasons:

Handbooks can represent a significant benefit to scholars around the world with limited or no access to commercial publishers' book products, since they summarize current research in a compact and organized fashion.

Commercial publishers in our field are producing many more handbooks than in the past, since they represent a significant profit opportunity. Many linguist-hours are being poured into these volumes, but their focus and direction is being at least partly driven by publishers' goals, rather than by the field's needs.

Open exchange of ideas is essential to the advancement of science, and open access to our research products is therefore a key priority for our field, as for all scientific work.

This initiative developed from a dramatic outpouring of responses to a casual Facebook post. We intend to capitalize on this grass-roots enthusiasm by creating this series in a yet-to-be-determined publication venue. We will curate handbooks which provide insightful review and analysis of current trends in our field, authored by leading scholars from all corners of the discipline.

The volumes will be accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Membership in the editorial board is currently limited to professors at the 'full' rank. Colleagues at that rank who are interested in supporting this initiative, particularly from institutions and subfields that are underrepresented in this initial list, are invited to contact Heidi Harley,

Editorial board members to date:

David Adger, Queen Mary University

Artemis Alexiadou, Humboldt University Berlin

Tor A Åfarli, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Diana Archangeli, University of Arizona

Peter Austin, SOAS University of London

Tista Bagchi, University of Delhi

Eric Bakovic, University of California San Diego

Balthasar Bickel, University of Zurich

Roberta D'Alessandro, Leiden University

Hana Filip, Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf

Kai von Fintel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Kleanthes K. Grohmann, University of Cyprus

Michael Hammond, University of Arizona

Heidi Harley, University of Arizona

Martin Haspelmath, Max Planck Institute-SSH Jena and Leipzig University

Caroline Heycock, University of Edinburgh

Laura Kallmeyer, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf

Simin Karimi, University of Arizona

Jeffrey Lidz, University of Maryland

Diane Lillo-Martin, University of Connecticut

Mark Liberman, University of Pennsylvania

Terje Lohndal, Norwegian University of Science and Technology/UiT The Arctic University of Norway

Diane Massam, University of Toronto

Jason Merchant, University of Chicago

Marianne Mithun, University of California, Santa Barbara

Shigeru Miyagawa, Massachusetts Institute of Technology/University of Tokyo

Stefan Müller, Freie Universität Berlin

Nikolaus P. Himmelmann, Universität zu Koln

Steven Pinker, Harvard University

Norvin Richards, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Johan Rooryck, Leiden University

Joseph Salmons, University of Wisconsin Madison

Sarah Thomason, University of Michigan

Marc van Oostendorp, Meertens Institute/Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences

Natasha Warner, University of Arizona

Tony Woodbury, University of Texas at Austin

Alan Yu, University of Chicago


  1. Berna said,

    October 5, 2016 @ 4:21 am

    Awesome! :-)

  2. Martin Ball said,

    October 5, 2016 @ 7:43 am

    I'm unsure how this will work financially. Are the handbooks to be free to the reader, or will there be a charge?
    If free, we assume the authors and editors are donating their services for free? Laudable if so, perhaps, but one assumes at some point something has to be paid (to an internet provider if nothing else).
    I suppose most of us get paid little for contributing chapters to a traditional handbook, or editing a collection, by publishers – but there's often something. I'm unsure whether telling authors you'll get nothing isn't devaluing our work even more than is done by traditional publishers. Knowing that readers can get access for free wouldn't actually make most people feel better about this, would it?

  3. Hans Adler said,

    October 5, 2016 @ 1:17 pm

    I don't think it's hard to come up with a good model that works even if some authors want to be paid. Basically this idea should work well:

    – Use a suitable free licence such as CC BY-ND: .
    – Publish an official hard copy of the book (of reasonable quality) using a good print on demand service. Make sure it has an ISBN and is available through major distribution channels. (Your book will be considerably cheaper than the alternatives anyway. There is no need to compromise on ease of buying.) Charge no more than twice the actual cost. Distribute the profit among the authors.

    Theoretically, someone else will be able to print the same book and sell it for a slightly lower price. But a lot of people – especially librarians – will prefer the official version. If you are really scared by the thought, you can use CC BY-NC-ND: to discourage the practice further.

  4. Jussi Piitulainen said,

    October 6, 2016 @ 1:03 am

    Publish digitally under a free license, and also make available endorsed distribution channels that share profits with creators. Inform potential buyers that they have a chance to support the creators this way. If a predatory publisher also picks a work up (under the free license they can), buyers will have a choice.

    Encourage sharing anyway.

    See creator-endorsed mark for an explanation of the idea, and for usable marks.

  5. Jen said,

    October 6, 2016 @ 5:11 am

    At least some of that is discussed in the facebook thread – that they're looking to find a university willing to provide hosting, and that the (or a) model is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

RSS feed for comments on this post