Response and Data: Phonology at general linguistics conferences
From Stephanie Shih (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Spurred on by the interesting discussion of phonology at general linguistics conferences (initiated by Abby Kaplan, https://blogs.umass.edu/phonolist/2016/05/31/discussion-phonology-at-general-linguistics-conferences/), I was curious what the actual numbers are.
Is it the case that the data reflect our intuitions about the footprint of phonology? Here is the data, between 1978 and the present for five general conferences: GLOW, BLS, CLS, NELS, and WCCFL. Details of data collection are included at the end. Raw data is available here: http://stephsus.github.io/linguometrics
Overall, the average representation of “p” papers at general linguistics conferences sits at between 24–27% for the time period, 1980–2016. GLOW is a major outlier, at a historical 13%. WCCFL has the highest historical average, at 27.24%, though CLS matches this in the recent data that is available (average 27.5%, for years 2009–2016). So in terms of getting the most “bang for your buck” if one wants to hobnob with the most phonologists, CLS looks like the best recent bet. In comparison to these averages, the % dissertations on the “p” side from 2009–2012 is ~19% (from this Proquest count: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4349). This 19% includes both phonetics and phonology dissertations. Counting just phonology: 13.59%.
I think there’s been a general intuition that I’ve heard echoed both in the Phonolist discussion and in private conversations that phonology is increasingly less well-represented at general linguistics conferences overall. Looking at the data, there certainly is a marked drop between 2009–2013, for NELS, WCCFL, and even BLS. I’m quite curious what caused this drop. 2013 was the first year of AMP, but that is probably more of a reaction to the perceived drop in phonology representation than the cause of it. In 2014–2015, there looks to have been a recovery of “p” papers at the various conferences, even though there are more “p”-specialty conferences available now (e.g., AMP, LabPhon, etc.).
Also from eyeballing the data, it doesn’t look like the introduction of AMP has lessened the number of “p” papers at other general conferences, at least in the short time period that AMP has been around so far. In both 2014–2015, levels for most of the other conferences rise. There’s been a bit of a drop in 2016 so far, and while this might be due to the increasing popularity of AMP, it’s probably more reasonable to suspect that it’s just the vicissitudes of a natural research cycle, as we can see from the previous 30 years.
Ultimately, the answer of what causes fluctuations in the “p” participation in conferences is most likely a multi-factor one. The temporal closeness of AMP and NELS, for instance, might in the end bleed off some NELS participation (but affect, say, WCCFL less). Our perception of trends probably also affects submissions (e.g., “oh, Conference X didn’t have a lot of p-papers last year, so we won’t submit there this year,” or “oh crap, we should submit to Conference X now to keep up p-representation”). Additionally, who the hosts are, who the reviewers are, and who the invited speakers are might matter. Juliet Stanton suggests also that if there is a specific phonology session at the conference might encourage “p” participation, so perhaps in addition to an effort to submit individual papers to general conferences, making an effort to organize special phonology sessions at conferences will increase “p” with greater impact.
Data was collected based what was easily available on the web. Most NELS, WCCFL, and BLS numbers are based on the table of contents of the published volumes, and thus may not exactly reflect the actual programs of the conferences. When no published volumes were available, data from web-available conference timetables were used (either from the existing conference website or Linguist List posting).
Years reflect the year in which the conference was held, not the year in which the proceedings were published. No distinction was made between invited talks, regular talks, special session talks, and posters. If anyone has conference programs from the missing years available, I would happily welcome the contribution to fill in the missing data.
Papers that fall into the “phonetics & phonology” (i.e., “p-oriented”) range were coded based on best educated guess given the title by me (and for the GLOW data, by Juliet Stanton). For papers that were about morphology or the phonology-syntax interface, I erred on the side of inclusive, so many of these are counted for “p”. In particular, morphology and phonology-syntax interface papers whose primary authors identify as phonologists were coded as “p”, under the assumption that part of having a phonological representation at a conference is about the researchers themselves in addition to actual papers about phonology. If anything, these numbers for “p” are more inclusive than exclusive.
(Acknowledgements to Juliet Stanton for the GLOW data, and to Adam Chong for discussion about this data.)