About Kai von Fintel

I'm a professor of linguistics at MIT. I work on meaning. I am also Associate Dean of MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. I have a wife, two kids, two cats, and a dog. I live in an intentional community (Mosaic Commons Cohousing) in Berlin, Massachusetts. I am a runner. I like soccer, a lot. I was born on a cold winter’s night in a small village on the Lüneburg Heath in Northern Germany.


It has not escaped our attention that we haven’t published an article in the past six months. This is not because we are not fielding lots of submissions nor because those submissions are of insufficient quality. Our sense is that this lumpiness of the publication schedule is part of what happens in a smallish field when you publish new articles as they become ready. Traditional journals hold on to articles until they are ready to bundle them into an issue that they publish on a more or less fixed schedule. This may help to keep the journal visible on a regular basis, a goal we will have to achieve in a different way.

We plan to even out the lumpiness a bit by encouraging more short articles & commentaries and also by using this blog more consistently as a way to keep the journal visible.

By the way, we have two articles about to be published very soon:

  • Michael Franke: “Quantity implicatures, exhaustive interpretation, and rational conversation”
  • Nathan Klinedinst and Daniel Rothschild: “Exhaustivity in questions with non-factives”

In addition, there are six articles in various stages of revision and five articles currently under peer review for the first time. Plus, we expect many of you to send us the fruits of your productive summers!

Associate Editors

[Update: added Hotze Rullmann to the roster!]

The journal has been very busy this past year, with lots of submission to shepherd through our rigorous and speedy process. To make the workload manageable, we have expanded the Editorial Team beyond the two founding co-editors (David Beaver and Kai von Fintel), we now have five six associate editors:

Josh, Rick, and Magda have been with us for quite a while. Regine, Hotze, and Katrin joined us very recently and we are hoping to add a few more associate editors in the near to medium term future. Associate editors will shepherd 4—6 articles through the peer review process each year. So, if you submit a paper to S&P (which you should!), you may deal with one of these people.

Thank you to our associate editors for taking on this important job and helping make S&P into one of the top journals in our field.

Elsevier stumbles upon benefit of electronic publication

“Elsevier Introduces Article-Based Publishing to Increase Publication Speed”:

Elsevier, the world-leading publisher of scientific, technical and medical information products and solutions, announced today the launch of Article-Based Publishing — a new publishing model that publishes articles as final and citable without needing to wait until a journal issue is complete. With an increasing focus on online publishing, there is a growing need for innovative publication models geared towards individual articles instead of the print-based issue model. Article-Based Publishing is the assigning of final citation data on an article-by-article basis, decoupled from the compilation of the journal issue itself.

“Article-Based Publishing is major step forward in publishing. Now the article is published in its final form within just a few weeks after acceptance, which provides the journal an important competitive advantage,” said Professor René Janssen, Editor of Organic Electronics. “Authors will be equally pleased to see the results of their research published sooner.”

For centuries, academic articles have been published in journals, issue by issue. While this practice has ensured organized citation information, it has also created boundaries for the timing of each published article. Now, Article-Based Publishing makes it possible to publish articles in their final form, with volume, issue and page numbers, before the entire issue is finalised. This new way of publishing speeds up the publication of articles by an average of 7 weeks.

Let us just say “welcome to the club”.

eLanguage Outage

This past weekend, the server that hosts eLanguage and its associated journals, including Semantics & Pragmatics, was the subject of a malicious attack from hackers. The technical staff has been working hard at getting eLanguage back up. While this has been going on, the URL for S&P points to a temporary page, from which all published articles are downloadable. We should note that the official links for S&P papers via their DOIs also point to this back-up location, so access to the articles we have published is not disrupted.

We expect eLanguage and S&P to be fully functional again in the next couple of days. In the mean time, if you have a question about submitting to the journal or any other business, please email us at editors@semprag.org.

[Update: eLanguage and S&P are back up and functional.]

S&P Stats Update (mid-year)

Since Semantics and Pragmatics opened the doors on November 28, 2007, we have had 57 submissions of regular articles and 6 submitted commentaries. We have published 11 articles (and 5 commentaries), are waiting for a revised version of 1 article, have one commentary in production, have 7 articles currently under review, and rejected 38 submissions.

Our acceptance rate (12/49) is 24%.

9 submissions were declined without external review. That decision was made in an average of 6 days.

For the 41 submissions that we sent out for external review and that we have made a first decision on, the average time to the first decision was 56 days and the median time was 52 days (there were a few submissions that took us far too long, which is skewing the average a bit). Our target is a maximum of 60 days (4 weeks for review and 4-5 weeks for editorial work), so we’re doing fine.

This year, S&P has published 419 pages (7 main articles, 3 commentaries), and more to come; clearly, quantity-wise we are now publishing in the same ballpark as the old journals, and quality-wise, we believe we hold more than our own. As far as service to our authors is concerned (speed and quality of editorial review), we believe we are lightyears ahead. Here are two recent quotes from authors (one from a rejected paper, one from a published paper):

“[We] are very grateful for the detailed feedback. Please convey our thanks to the reviewers for their useful work.”

“You guys are ruining us for dealing with other semantics journals, with turnarounds measured in weeks instead of years, high-quality refereeing, sensible editorial judgments, and open access.”

Thanks for all your support.

Cooling failure

From our technical staff in Düsseldorf:

elanguage.net [and thus S&P] is currently suffering an outage which appears to be the result of a cooling failure in the HBZ’s server facility in Cologne. We’ll keep you posted.

We’ll keep you posted as well.

[Update: S&P is back online, after 4 hours of down time.]

On citing well

The journal Nature Chemical Biology has an editorial that is well worth reading and pondering for other fields as well:

Unfortunately, the editorial is behind a paywall. Here are the main points in excerpts.

The appearance of new ideas and discoveries in the scientific literature is a reflection of ongoing scientific progress. Individual articles are nodes of scientific knowledge, but citations of published work link together the concepts, technologies and advances that define scientific disciplines. Though information technology and databases have helped us to better manage the expanding scientific literature, the quality of our citation maps still hinges on the quality of the bibliographic information contained in each published paper. Because article citations are increasingly used as metrics of researcher productivity, the citation record also affects individual scientists and their institutions. As a result, all participants in the scientific publication process need to ensure that the citation network of the scientific literature is as complete and accurate as possible.

Many factors may stand in the way of good citation practices. […] Each research group has its own referencing habits, and some may feature their own work too prominently or rely on familiar references without a critical examination of whether a particular citation is the most appropriate in the given context. Some researchers may not cite ‘old’ papers either because these are incorrectly viewed as being out of date or because inertia inevitably may encourage authors to cite the articles that show up more frequently in searches or that have appeared recently.

Researchers understandably are motivated, in both professional and personal ways, to have their scientific contributions recognized through citation by their peers. The community also values the accurate assignment of credit and precedence for scientific discoveries. As a result, even an accidental omission of a necessary citation may create an uncomfortable situation for a paper’s authors. More problematic, however, are cases where authors deliberately omit relevant citations. Because perceived novelty can be an important factor in determining where a manuscript is published, some authors may be tempted to avoid citing earlier or concurrent work from their own laboratories to enhance the apparent advance of a submitted study. In other cases, some authors may consider ongoing scientific disagreements, personal conflicts or competition a sufficient justification for omitting citations of work by others. Clearly authors need to do everything they can to avoid accidental omission of key references, and should never exclude relevant citations for nonscientific reasons. In turn, all scientists, independent of their roles as authors, referees or editors, need to renew their commitment to guaranteeing that literature citations correctly assign credit for ideas and discoveries and are placed thoughtfully in manuscripts and published papers.

Though editors and referees can help, authors are ultimately responsible for the information contained in their published papers. We recommend that authors take several important steps to increase the quality of their citation lists. First, principal investigators need to teach young scientists the appropriate ways to select manuscript references and mentor them in the ethical dimensions of citation. Second, authors need to put as much care into selecting and accurately citing references as they devote to the rest of their manuscripts. As part of this process, authors should perform comprehensive literature searches as they write and revise manuscripts, so as to identify relevant work that may need to be cited. Before including references in their citation lists, all authors should have read and discussed the candidate references to ensure that they are the most relevant choices and are called out at the appropriate point in the paper.

The responsibility for maintaining and enhancing the citation network of a discipline resides with all participants: authors, referees, editors and database managers. Thoughtful attention during the writing and review processes remains the first and best approach for ensuring citation quality and the appropriate assignment of credit in published papers. Yet new publishing and database tools that lead us to an interactive multidimensional scientific literature will become essential. As publishers move toward integrating functionality such as real-time commenting on published papers and creating ‘living manuscripts’ that preserve the snapshot of a research area through the lens of a published paper, while permitting forward and backward linking, the scientific literature is poised to become a richer environment that will support future scientific progress.

At S&P, we are fully committed to these goals, but could surely work harder to improve the citation practices. One of our criteria for evaluating submissions is “contextualization of research”, as spelled out in our inaugural editorial:

Are the main research questions contextualized in terms of earlier related work? Does the paper adequately cite related work? Could the impact of the paper be improved through modifications that would show the relevance of the results to future work in the same or other fields?

Advice to authors: by contextualizing results appropriately, the author not only increases the worth of the paper to the audience, but also makes the job of the editors and reviewers easier. It will be much easier for us to be sure that a paper should be published if we can clearly see what previous work it betters. Authors would do well to flag, both in the abstract and early on in the paper, the relationship of the paper to earlier proposals, and to indicate in broad terms what the relative advantages of the new approach are. Of course, it is then incumbent on the author to make sure that all such claims are fully justified in the main text of the article.

Another aspect of this is that once the relevant citations have been chosen, the bibliographic detail given in the article needs to be as complete and clear as possible:

  • full first names of authors and editors
  • both volume and issue numbers for journal articles
  • page numbers for everything that appeared on numbered pages
  • DOIs for every work that has a DOI (important both for easy access by readers to the cited literature and for all kinds of automated processes, present and future)
  • URLs for unpublished manuscripts and other obscure sources
  • conference proceedings formatted as specified in the Unified Style Sheet for Linguistics

S&P strives towards citing well, which requires continuous attention from authors, reviewers, and editors.

The Start of a Banner Year

Today marks the start of what we hope will be a banner year for our journal. We just published two articles:

We have three more main articles in production, which should all appear quite soon:

  • Donka Farkas & Henriëtte deSwart: “The semantics and pragmatics of plurals”
  • Thony Gillies: “Iffiness”
  • Rick Nouwen: “Two kinds of modified numerals”

We also have two or three more commentaries in various stages of submission/production, and are always soliciting commentaries on any of our main articles.

Finally, there are four papers under current review, we’re expecting revised versions of a number of manuscripts, and we’re awaiting several manuscripts that have been promised to us.

All in all, the journal is ramping up phenomenally and this will be the year that the quantity of our output will reach the levels of the other three main journals in our field.

Please help us make the journal more widely known and please submit your work to us. You’ll get excellent reviewing and editorial service and your work will look great thanks to our superior typography and it will be published free of charge and openly accessible to everyone.