Sounding out ideas on language, vivid sensory words, and iconicity

The LSA Language Anthology survey: some additional data

The LSA asks its members in a survey to choose the most important papers in Language, 1925-2000. Have you ever wondered what might be the most cited ones?

The Linguistic Society of America (LSA) is currently doing a member survey to collect suggestions for an anthology of the most influential and significant articles published in Language. From the survey:

For each volume of the Anthology, we are seeking input on those articles which represent the best scholarship published during that particular period. By “best,” we mean the most influential, the most cited, the most visited in JSTOR, and those considered a must-read for students and scholars of the discipline.

The survey includes some data that is normally hard to come by: most viewed1 articles from the JSTOR archive of Language. Since I think we can learn some useful things by crowdsourcing this data, I have put it in a publicly editable Google spreadsheet called Language Anthology data.

Looking over the lists, a number of interesting observations could be made. One thing that strikes me is the representation of all sorts of approaches to language, fitting the role of Language as perhaps the closest thing we have to a flagship journal for the field as a whole. There is more to say, but I don’t want to interpret too much. (Supply your own interpretations in the comments below!)

More data

As a first addition to the spreadsheet, I thought it would be interesting to get some idea of the number of citations of the items listed in the LSA survey. Do articles that are ‘viewed’ or ‘downloaded’ actually get cited? As a rough approximation, I use the “cited by” number from Google Scholar (if anyone has better data for all of the items, feel free to add a column in the spreadsheet!). The citation chart below is generated from the data in the spreadsheet:

Some interesting things emerge here. First, there is the Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson (1974) paper on turn-taking, which with a whopping 5638 citations must surely be the most cited full article in the history of the journal Language. There was an interesting discussion on Funknet the other day (prompted by a question of Fritz Newmeyer) about outside views of linguistics as a discipline. In a contribution to this discussion, Brian MacWhinney noted the following:

Finally, I wish that I could refer to Conversation Analysis as a part of linguistics. I know that I can’t really get away with this, although personally I think it is a part. In any case, I see a lot of interest and respect for CA from areas as diverse as marketing, sociology, politics, aphasiology, and so on.

Seeing statistics like this (and noting that the fourth most cited article on the list —Schegloff et al. 1977, with 1698 citations— is another CA article), the question whether or not CA should be considered part of some (apparently narrowly construed) discipline doesn’t really matter. Clearly, scholars inside and outside of “linguistics” have no trouble finding the results of CA worthwile enough to cite. That said, I do agree with MacWhinney: if there is to be a true science of human language (a reasonable gloss for “linguistics” I would say), it seems clear to me that the analysis of conversation should form an integral part of it.

Curiously, the next most cited article, Dowty 1991, has a little over two thousand citations, leaving a enormous gap. Her’s something to think about: What will these charts look like for the upcoming decades? What kinds of approaches to language are going fill that gap in the next fify years? My bet is on more data-driven approaches: CA, corpus linguistics, large scale typological studies based on fine-grained datasets, and the like.

An outlier on the other side of the spectrum is Michael Shapiro’s “Sound and meaning in Shakespearer’s sonnets”, which according to Google Scholar is cited by only 3 works. One wonders how it ends up in the JSTOR top 25 downloads — and why it is not getting cited!

Some missing items

Now the LSA survey would not be a member survey if they did not ask their members to supply their own candidate articles for inclusion in the Language Anthology. I have a few of my own (Friedrich’s “Shape in grammar”; Jakobson’s “Grammatical parallelism”; Fromkin’s “Anomalous utterances”; Clark & Gerrig’s “Quotations as demonstrations”; Evans & Wilkins’s “In the mind’s ear”), but perhaps it is more interesting to look at some other widely cited articles that didn’t make it through the LSA selection process.

Here is a Google Scholar search that will produce articles from the period 1925-2000 in Language, sorted (roughly, as all data in Google Scholar) by number of citations. On that list we find the following widely cited articles that are not present in the LSA survey (though I suspect that many of them should also be in the top 25 downloads from JSTOR):

There are some great and important articles in this list that would in my opinion be worth anthologizing. What are your choices?

Appendix: the lists

Although the data is in the Google spreadsheet, I include the lists from the LSA survey below in a proper bibliographic format. All of this is simply pulled from Zotero (which made it a breeze to get the papers from JSTOR), and users of Zotero will see a little “folder” icon that they can use to import the references into their library. Additionally, the papers are in the public Zotero group “Linguistics”: see the collections 1976-2000 and 1925-1975, respectively.

LSA 1. JSTOR’s most viewed/downloaded Language papers, 1976-2000.

(I’m not sure how this list is ordered; I’m presenting it here as it is presented in the survey.)

  1. Hale, Ken, Michael Krauss, Lucille J. Watahomigie, Akira Y. Yamamoto, Colette Craig, LaVerne Masayesva Jeanne & Nora C. England. 1992. Endangered Languages. Language 68(1). 1-42.  
  2. Birdsong, David. 1992. Ultimate Attainment in Second Language Acquisition. Language 68(4). 706-755.  
  3. Pfaff, Carol W. 1979. Constraints on Language Mixing: Intrasentential Code-Switching and Borrowing in Spanish/English. Language 55(2). 291-318.  
  4. Hopper, Paul J. & Sandra A. Thompson. 1984. The Discourse Basis for Lexical Categories in Universal Grammar. Language 60(4). 703-752.  
  5. Hopper, Paul J. & Sandra A. Thompson. 1980. Transitivity in Grammar and Discourse. Language 56(2). 251-299.  
  6. Dowty, David. 1991. Thematic Proto-Roles and Argument Selection. Language 67(3). 547-619.  
  7. Schegloff, Emanuel A., Gail Jefferson & Harvey Sacks. 1977. The Preference for Self-Correction in the Organization of Repair in Conversation. Language 53(2). 361-382.  
  8. Ladefoged, Peter. 1992. Another View of Endangered Languages. Language 68(4). 809-811. doi:10.2307/416854.  
  9. Lichtenberk, Frantisek. 1991. Semantic Change and Heterosemy in Grammaticalization. Language 67(3). 475-509.  
  10. Meier, Richard P. & Elissa L. Newport. 1990. Out of the Hands of Babes: On a Possible Sign Advantage in Language Acquisition. Language 66(1). 1-23.  

LSA 2. Nine more articles from the top 25 downloads, 1976-2000

Then there is “a list of nine additional articles falling within the top 25 downloaded articles from 1976-2000”.

  1. Nunberg, Geoffrey, Ivan A. Sag & Thomas Wasow. 1994. Idioms. Language 70(3). 491-538.  
  2. Tannen, Deborah. 1982. Oral and Literate Strategies in Spoken and Written Narratives. Language 58(1). 1-21.  
  3. Chambers, J. K. 1992. Dialect Acquisition. Language 68(4). 673-705.  
  4. Shapiro, Michael. 1998. Sound and Meaning in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Language 74(1). 81-103.  
  5. Traugott, Elizabeth Closs. 1989. On the Rise of Epistemic Meanings in English: An Example of Subjectification in Semantic Change. Language 65(1). 31-55.  
  6. Kay, Paul & Chad K. McDaniel. 1978. The Linguistic Significance of the Meanings of Basic Color Terms. Language 54(3). 610-646.  
  7. Bybee, Joan L. & Dan I. Slobin. 1982. Rules and Schemas in the Development and Use of the English past Tense. Language 58(2). 265-289.  
  8. McWhorter, John H. 1998. Identifying the Creole Prototype: Vindicating a Typological Class. Language 74(4). 788-818.  
  9. Gundel, Jeanette K., Nancy Hedberg & Ron Zacharski. 1993. Cognitive Status and the Form of Referring Expressions in Discourse. Language 69(2). 274-307.  

LSA 3. Six articles from the period 1925-1975

It is unclear why there wouldn’t also be a top 10 or even top 25 list of articles for the 1925-1975 period, but anyway, the survey gives only the following six, in this order:

  1. Sacks, Harvey, Emanuel A. Schegloff & Gail Jefferson. 1974. A Simplest Systematics for the Organization of Turn-Taking for Conversation. Language 50(4). 696-735.  
  2. Curtiss, Susan, Victoria Fromkin, Stephen Krashen, David Rigler & Marilyn Rigler. 1974. The Linguistic Development of Genie. Language 50(3). 528-554.  
  3. Chomsky, Noam. 1959. A Review of B.F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior. Language 35(1). 26-58.  
  4. Haugen, Einar. 1950. The Analysis of Linguistic Borrowing. Language 26(2). 210-231.  
  5. Hays, David G. 1964. Dependency Theory: A Formalism and Some Observations. Language 40(4). 511-525.  
  6. Ferguson, Charles A. & Carol B. Farwell. 1975. Words and Sounds in Early Language Acquisition. Language 51(2). 419-439.  
  1. Or most downloaded? The email invitation says “most viewed”, but the survey says “most frequently downloaded” articles from the JSTOR archive. []

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