In the interest of "increasing the expert-appeal" of the site (@Evpok), and related to spirit of the answers to this question,

I would call for a universal guideline asking users NOT to to cite Wikipedia as a source when answering a question.

I hope that this site exhibits a professional, academic focus, and for that to be true, I think that

  • there must be an assumed knowledge base in the field of linguistics for anyone asking or answering a question in the Linguistics SE.
  • the community should prefer professional or academic sources over other alternatives.

Even though I know that there are lots of dedicated people that maintain Wikipedia (especially in the field of linguistics!), I have personally found it to be questionable on more than one occasion.

That being said, I can see how Wikipedia may be a jumping off point for a question, and I can see how it may be offered as getting-started reading for a related topic, so I am not proposing a ban on links to Wikipedia.

EDIT: Great places to find academic citations: JSTOR, LLBA, ASC and other journal archives (most of these require a subscription, usually through a school).

Lots of full-text journals are available online: The Linguistics Journal, Oxford's Applied Linguistics, Journal of English Linguistics, International Journal of Applied Linguistics, MIT's Computational Linguistics, Diachronica: International Journal for Historical Linguistics, Language, SIL ebooks, and many, many more.

Linguist List's list of journals

Or, for primary sources: MIT's foreign language newspaper collection, SIL Language and Culture Documentation and Description; Corpora: UPenn's Linguistic Data Consortium, ICAME, collection of corpora, BYU's corpora list, Linguist List's list of corpora

  • I wanted to add a "why" to this: Citing an academic source from a journal means that the article has been vetting by the editorial board of the journal. That means that they judge the content of the article to be scientifically sound, as linguistics is a science. There is no guarantee for tertiary sources like Wikipedia. I don't hate Wikipedia or anything; I just don't want the Linguistics SE to be a bunch of redirects to Wikipedia.
    – mollyocr
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 17:41
  • It won't be, don't worry. EL&U has allowed the use of Wikipedia; still, you can see other sources as well. :) The problem with these sources you linked is that we might not be allowed to use that material, for copyright reasons. I think it would be necessary to check each one of them. Apart from such things anyway, no-one denies you from choosing those sources. :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 17:52
  • What do you mean, "use" the material? Linking to something that the publisher or author makes available online is not copyright infringement. Quoting, too, is covered under fair use, as long as it's not too much.
    – mollyocr
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 17:59
  • I meant quoting, yes. Linking is not harming them, maybe the opposite. :D
    – Alenanno
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 18:00
  • Fair Use: copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html. You're right that "The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined." But infringement/fair use is determined by purpose, amount and how it reflects on the copyrighted work. Like you pointed out, our discussions in SE are probably good for these works! And even if we were criticizing a work, that's still fair use. (Also, without trying to sound like a dick, I could have linked to the Wikipedia page on Fair Use, but I didn't.)
    – mollyocr
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 18:10
  • @mollyocr: Not answering your question, but you have here a nice, big list of linguistics documents that I had not come across before! (I'm a computational kind of linguist.) Would you like to create a community-wiki question inviting people to contribute to this list? That way, these sites will be more out-in-the-open than it is in meta. People would tend to use better articles if they know about them.
    – prash Mod
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 22:27
  • Looking forward to having 125 rep here to downvote. Commented Mar 30, 2014 at 5:51

4 Answers 4


I disagree. Although not being the ultimate source, Wikipedia has proven itself to be a helpful and useful resource in many occasions.

I agree that if possible, the more sources are given the better it is, but asking not to use it, it's like asking to ban it, and I can't really agree with that.

Wikipedia is a good resource to give a "first smattering" on a certain matter and it can be useful for those who are not into the world of Linguistics. Some linguistics books use a lot of terminology, so banning wikipedia would probably cut out people who are coming to this site to learn something about Linguistics.

  • 2
    I understand that Wikipedia is a good resource. I'm only saying it's not a good source.
    – mollyocr
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 14:27
  • Usually it's also a good source. I don't think that people anyway will only rely on Wikipedia. Like I said, it's good for introducing someone to a certain topic; and in some cases, the articles are well written, too. If something is wrong, you simply switch to another source, but banning it a priori is not the solution, in my opinion.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 14:32
  • Which why I specifically said that I wasn't asking for it to be banned. I recommended that we give it as a guideline to users, preferring academic, primary sources instead.
    – mollyocr
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 15:48
  • I don't think there are "standard" academic sources online, apart from books maybe; but if you know any, then please edit your question and write a list of those sources. They will be useful for others.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 15:55
  • There are lots of academic sources online. See edit!
    – mollyocr
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 17:29

I think there is a more important underlying issue here. I think instead of worrying about answers that cite wikipedia primarily, we should in fact worry about QUESTION that can be answered by a simple wikipedia article.

I think we should strongly discourage questions that can be answered by an obvious wikipedia query. If such questions pop-up, instead of answering them with a wikipedia link, we should simply downvote/close them.

  • 1
    Why worry about that? I don't know how they are now but last time I looked at the Wikipedia articles for basic stuff like "noun" and "verb" they were utterly terrible, as if everybody with an opinion or factoid (but nobody with any knowledge of linguistics) had stitched in some random edits. And even if they are better now the point that change drastically across time makes them unstable. Stack Exchange is much more stable for good answers to questions that are covered by bad Wikipedia articles. (And I say this as a Wikipedia fan) Commented Sep 25, 2011 at 9:04
  • Also This is off-topic for this question, I believe it has its own topic and people will be able to follow it better if it's all in one place. Commented Sep 25, 2011 at 9:05
  • 1
    I actually agree with @user33. Is it terribly gauche to quote myself?: there must be an assumed knowledge base in the field of linguistics for anyone asking or answering a question in the Linguistics SE.
    – mollyocr
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 14:08
  • I think I've written elsewhere that I also assumed people would know many basic concepts for this site, but I've found myself having to state multiple times what basic things like grammatical gender are... so now I no longer make that assumption. Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 17:31
  • This issue has been discussed on Meta Stack Exchange and various other Stack Exchange meta sites. Questions whose answer is clear from a Wikipedia article (that is obvious from the question, i.e. not “what is this concept called”) are known as “general reference” questions on SE. Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 23:54

I agree with Alenanno. Plus, if someone abuses wikipedia or cites a bad wikipedia article, I'm sure it will get downvoted (which is the natural way to mark bad posts)

  • That's also right! Poor answers are always down-voted (or left ignored), wikipedia or not.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Sep 24, 2011 at 8:19
  • 4
    @Alenanno that is not true at all (go over to physics.SE). When Wikipedia is wrong, it is usually wrong in that it states a COMMON misconception. Since the misconception is common, most users (who are non-experts) don't realize it and still upvote the answer. When an expert comes to the site, they see the common misconceptions upvoted and are turned-off from the site. Commented Sep 25, 2011 at 7:26
  • @user33 I meant that if an answer is poor — and it can be whether there is wikipedia or not — the answer will be down-voted by someone, an expert or someone who knows the right answer.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Sep 25, 2011 at 10:09
  • As @user33 said, the problem with wikipedia is that misconceptions become entrenched. The experts are not only out-voted, their attempts at correction are erased. I'm sure I'm not the only one who no longer bothers to edit wikipedia.
    – kaleissin
    Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 6:27

I certainly relate to what you're saying @mollyocr, because some people seem to use cites for Wikipedia here like trump cards as proof, which should never be done.

Most of us know Wikipedia is useful but must be taken with a grain of salt and is best used as an overview, intro, or source of links to better references. So I agree with @Louis and @Alenanno.

  • 1
    Alas, those better references are not always available. Sometimes, the only references one can find on a given topic are either in Wikipedia or on a site that charges more than $10.00 per article. Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 2:41

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