Category Archives: Other

Class on journal article writing

Last spring, I taught a graduate class on how to submit an article to a journal. Our department, like many, has a qualifying paper requirement, where students write two “publishable” or “near-publishable” research papers as a stepping stone to the dissertation. Faculty have always had the expectation that students would submit these papers to a journal, but my impression (as Director of Graduate Studies) was that this wasn’t happening as quickly or as frequently as it should. Hence this class.

Students were third and fourth year graduate students. They had all already passed our qualifying paper requirement, and had at least one manuscript to work with. We met once a week for an hour as a group, and the students met with a partner outside of class for at least an hour too. During our group meeting the students reported briefly on they’d done with their writing buddies. I also did all the activities.

This is a writing-intensive class for graduate students in linguistics who are interested in gaining more experience with writing and publication. Student may enroll with the permission of instructor and need to have a QP or other piece of writing that would be suitable for submission to a journal by the end of the semester.

The class counts towards the departmental seminar requirement for graduates in third and fourth year.

In order to pass the class, students will need to do the following:

. Submit at least one paper to a journal.
. Submit an abstract to at least one conference.
. Provide a referee report for at least one paper for a colleague.
. Have a ‘writing buddy’ within the class, to whom you provide regular feedback.
. Provide weekly feedback to the group regarding progress.

We will meet weekly as a group for an hour, and you will also meet your writing buddy for an hour.
Assessment: this was a pass/fail class.

Here was the weekly schedule. I did not make detailed handouts for class, since this was an additional class for me. We did not use a textbook. If doing this again, I could see some advantage to using something like “writing a journal article in 12 weeks” but I don’t think it’s crucial.

Week 1: General writing and research skills. Backing up, some techniques for writing consistently, and the like. Expectations of working with a writing buddy (regular time to meet with them). The students made a research project list for homework and posted it for everyone (I showed them mine, which led into a discussion of how many projects someone should be working on at any one time). We also talked about how to identify self-sabotaging tendencies in academic work.

Week 2: Identify the manuscript to submit and what needs to be done to it in order to make it publishable/submittable (e.g. ar the data sufficient, writing clarity, organization, length, engagement with the literature). We talked about word limits, general properties of journal articles, minimal publishable units, and the like.

Week 3: How to pick a journal. We talked about main journals in the field, how to figure out what’s an appropriate place to send a manuscript (what goes to Language, for example). Homework was to figure out what journal (+ backup journal) they wanted to target. We brainstormed journals and the decision process for where to send a paper.

Week 4: How to submit an article to a journal. We walked through the Diachronica online submission process, registering for the site, creating a submission, explaining all the steps, and talking about how different platforms are different. We also talked about how to interact with journal editors, what a presubmission inquiry looks like, and when it’s ok to ask for an update.Homework for this (and previous weeks) was to continue working on what needed to be done to the paper to submit it.

Week 5: Check-in. We went through what each person was doing on their paper, where they were at, what still needed to be done.

Week 6: What a referee report looks like. How long they take to do and receive, what sort of things get commented on, tone, etc. We wrote a report on a published paper (anonymized) and I shared reports I had received on a couple of papers.

Week 7. Revising and resubmitting. How to respond to referee reports. What to expect from an editor’s decision, whether you need to respond to everything, how to deal with conflicting recommendations, what to submit in a revision. Desk rejections and what they mean. I shared copies of an original submission, referee reports, resubmission, and subsequent acceptance of a paper.

Weeks 8-11: Refereeing our papers. We did three rounds of refereeing. Each week, everyone brought two copies of their paper to class, and we spent half an hour commenting on two papers. Homework was to revise the paper in accordance with the suggestions from the class “referees”. We also talked about the comments they were giving.

Week 12: Turning a journal article into a conference paper abstract. Differences between articles and conference talks.

Week 13: dealing with proofs. Proof marks, what sorts of things can be corrected at proof stage, etc.

I also had a paper I wanted to submit that spring, and since there were 5 students in the class, I teamed up with one of them as a writing buddy too.

The deadline for submission of papers was May 10, and most of the papers were submitted fairly close to that date. Of the 5 students (+ me), the results so far are: 1 accept with minor revision (a few days ago), 1 revise and resubmit (last week), 1 reject with helpful reviews for revision and submission elsewhere (in June), 1 technical rejection (+ submission elsewhere; about a week after submission), and 2 still under review.

I think it worked pretty well, and I will probably offer it again in a year or two (not this coming year).


Teaching statement

I’ve finally figured out what I want to put in a teaching statement:

I am a linguist and I teach about linguistics, particularly language change and language documentation. My teaching is research centered in that I want my classes, from freshman classes to graduate seminars, to be places where my students learn how to ‘figure stuff out’ – how to step outside their starting assumptions to figure out what language tells us about how our world works, how to find out what they don’t know, even when they think they know it, and how to be constructive critics of their own and others’ work. I want them to be excited about learning and not to see the syllabus as simply a set of hoops to go through to earn a grade. In short, I teach students how to think, not what to think.

If language were spoken in a vacuum, my teaching statement could probably end there, vague though it is. But language is spoken by humans and researched by humans, and humans are complex. Views about language, from the appropriateness of teaching spelling, to when to introduce a second language, to who should be bilingual, to who speaks better than others, pervade our lives. They affect the type of data that linguists can use, and more concretely, they directly affect the lived experience of a large fraction of the population, for better or for worse.

Linguists can, and should, have a lot to say about this. Our commitment to the ‘scientific’ study of language has implications, both for how to study social dynamics, and the ways in which language is used to reinforce or deny power. Our work as academics gives us tools to critically examine social constructs, to separate the content of claims about the world from the language used to deliver those claims, and to see the implications of such arguments.

My practical focus in this lab is on a combination of educational outreach and training, and the commitments that this entails. Quite simply, students need to be able to do the best work they can in my classes and research group, and if they can’t because they are systematically disadvantaged, that’s not just their problem, it’s my problem too.

How does this translate into concrete activities? For me, this means a twin focus on the broader impacts of training current and future researchers, and of making our methods, results, and approaches more available to others.

Within the lab and classroom, it means fostering an atmosphere of excellence and respect, where everyone’s contributions are acknowledged and valued. It means acknowledging the realities of implicit bias and how it can affect both our work and our perceptions of excellence. It means acknowledging and leaving time to explore history in the classroom.

For training, it means working from a broad definition of ‘excellence’ that factors in opportunity and potential as well as results achieved to date. It means recognizing that ‘pipeline’ questions won’t solve themselves without effort.

For activities, it means a genuine commitment to outreach. This includes making sure language materials are accessible to the people who need them, that we preferentially publish in open access journals, that we provide plain English summaries of our work, that the results of our work are integrated into general outlets such as Wikipedia, and that we help people who want to learn about linguistics and don’t have the resources to do so. It means not just an informational role, but an advocacy role for topics where our research is relevant, such as language endangerment.

Tasmanian language data

The CHIRILA database contains materials from the Aboriginal languages of Tasmania. The excel spreadsheets contain all the records from Plomley’s (1976) Tasmanian language data, and additional spreadsheets contain explanatory data about the speakers represented in the text, the regions where data were recorded, and who the recorders were. This is the data used in Bowern (2012).

A word of warning is warranted here. This is not easy data to use; there’s a steep learning curve both for understanding the original transcription conventions, Plomley’s groupings, and the abbreviations.

See for downloads.


I maintain, which provides references to recent publications on Australian languages. I’ve recently gone through the backlog of draft posts, so expect to see more activity on the site over the next few weeks. Suggestions for papers to post … Continue reading

domain name update

The domain is now defunct. (I registered it in 2005 through yahoo “small business” as part of my Houston home phone account, and now can’t recover the account information. It’s somewhere in internet limbo.) My blog is still available from, though. At some point I may even have time to write some more contentful posts.

How many languages? (2)

I’ve updated the list of how many languages were spoken in Australia at European settlement. Thanks to Barry Alpher, Greg Dickson, Aidan Wilson and JC Verstraete for comments.

How many languages were spoken in Australia?

For years, I’ve been using the figure of approximately 250 Aboriginal languages spoken at the time of European settlement, of which roughly 150 were Pama-Nyungan. I recently had the chance to clean up my list of standard language names, which means that I finally got a fairly accurate estimate of how many languages there actually were. This includes some “languages” that we would probably treat as mutually intelligible varieties if we were being very strict, but on the “Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian are separate languages” model, I am comfortable treating languages like Dhuwal and Dhuwala as distinct. Some of the decisions are a bit arbitrary, though.

Here are the figures:

  • 363 languages in Australia, 364 if we include Meryam Mir, which is a Papuan language spoken in Australian territory. The number goes up by 7 if we include Tasmanian languages, but my database only includes the mainland.
  • 275 of those languages are Pama-Nyungan.
  • I am working with 30 primary subgroups and 5 isolates, within Pama-Nyungan.

You are free to use it for your own (non-commercial) purposes, and I would be very happy to hear about corrections, additions, subtractions, etc. If you want a list of languages, this is, if I say so myself, a far better list to use than the Ethnologue’s. Edited: you now need to contact me for permission to use the list. Sorry about that.