I was quite excited to see that the linguistics SE had begun public beta. However, I must admit that I'm a bit disappointed by the level of the questions on the front page. I guess I was under the impression that the site would be more focused on research-level Linguistics, not just languages in general. Was I wrong about that? Do other people feel similarly?

8 Answers 8


(This began as a comment in response to user33's post, but morphed into something longer.)

As a "research-level" linguist myself, I wonder about this. It can be frustrating to see questions that are easily googlable, or that seem to ask for others to synthesize a complex theory/reference – which can be an undertaking even for a professional well-versed in the field. (It is not for nothing that professors complain that teaching takes time away from their research.)

On the other hand, I remember what it was like for me only a few years ago, and it turns out I benefited a lot from people explaining things to me slowly, clearly, and repeatedly. I think the value of this site will be in making linguistics knowledge accessible to a wider range of people. As a professional, I have conferences and journals available as avenues of communication, as well as a reputation that makes many people willing to help me out. But non-professionals, in the main, can't just email a professor or graduate student and ask a question – they would run the risk of being ignored. Often they don't have access to classes in linguistics, or even journal subscriptions through a university library.

I try to structure my answers to questions so as to build bridges to theoretical linguistics. It's a risky strategy – it may not be what the asker is looking for. But the idea that I am helping amateur linguists gain better access to the knowledge I have gained through my education is my motivation for posting here.

On the LaTeX SX website (another where I have been somewhat active), many people post questions with too little information about their configuration to really diagnose their problem. The community there has developed a list of responses along the lines of "please edit your question to provide information X." (I think they even have a meta question listing standard wording for these messages.) I would be in favor of us developing something similar here, so that if someone asks a question that seems very basic, we respond with "what resources have you tried consulting, what does Wikipedia say?" etc. This may take time to solidify – at present there is a lot of enthusiasm among core community members (on both the question and answer sides of the fence); as this wanes we will see what long-term willingness there is to endure certain types of questions.

For now, though, I think we should have a light hand in closing questions that are not "research-level" (though we can and should be strict about non-linguistic questions), and focus on creating awareness of appropriate reference sources for in questions that seem very basic (the WALS gets cited often in answers, for example). We can also start building a tag structure (around , perhaps) that accumulates questions of interest to high-level scholars.


A lot of the answers to this question have been "just ask research level questions and when we get more researchers we'll have more research questions and answers". Unfortunately, a site with lots of basic questions will not attract researchers. A prime example is physics.SE which disappointed the research physicists enough that a separate theoreticalphysics.SE (currently in private beta) was created. The only non-beta research SE is cstheory.SE which works very hard to close non-research level questions specifically to keep the questions at a high level (since non-research questions are so easy to ask and would drown the research community quickly). This has made the site very useful for the theoretical computer science community, but maybe not as useful (or popular) in the general community.

It seems that linguistics.SE was aimed at the general audience, and thus cannot have a policy of closing non-research questions. That being said, I think it is definitely a good idea to at least have a policy of not easily wikipediable questions.

However, if you want to increase the amount of research level questions on this site. A good idea might be to seed with research level questions you know your colleagues might have answers to, and then send them links explaining how easy it is to join the site and how their answer would be very useful.

  • 1
    This could be a decent argument for having separate languages and linguistics sites on Stack Exchange. The SE management seem to be leaning against it so far so you might want to look at the languages proposal and give some input there. Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 21:24
  • @hippietrail I don't see how this is related. Linguistics is not research level, and languages doesn't look like it is intended to be research level. If there is enough interest, it is always possible to create a research linguistics proposal that is separate. Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 22:21
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    Well you could create a separate proposal but look how long it took for linguistics to reach beta. It would take research linguistics much longer. The alternative would be to split the questions that might be too basic off to languages and keep the pure linguistics ones here. That way research linguists wouldn't be put off contributing here. Anyway it's just an idea (-: Commented Sep 24, 2011 at 10:37
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    Just a small amendment: mathoverflow is a very successful research-only math stackexchange site. (It isn't hosted by stackexchange though.) I'm sure it is helped by the existence of the non-specialist mathematics.se.
    – kgr
    Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 23:22
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    @kgr cstheory.SE is a very successful research-only theoretical computer science Q&A that is hosted by SE. Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 5:25
  • @artem yes, I meant to add mathoverflow to the list, since you said that cstheory is the only one.
    – kgr
    Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 11:46
  • @kgr my bad. I avoided mentioning MO partially because I have less experience with it, and partially because (as you mentioned) it is not on the SE network. Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 10:19

Research-level linguistics questions are certainly welcome.

A natural problem the site may face is that research-level interests may prompt big, involved questions that don't have a quick answer, and those who contribute such questions may not have new questions frequently. Conversely, shorter, more frequent, and easier-to-answer questions will come from beginners.

When you're thinking about posting a research-level question, it may help to break up the problem into separate questions so that each can have one best answer and you can ask and get answers a little more often. (It's ok to link to related questions from your own; for example, you may want to mention something you asked earlier or point out something that did not fully answer your question.)

All before getting too far, you might ask specific questions about things like tools, previous work in the area, experimental design strategies... A broader audience will be able to help answer some of these questions than might be able to work on a specialized research topic, so you and the site will both benefit.


A Stackexchange site is not only about research-level questions. You're totally free to ask them, of course, and if you have some in mind, you should consider asking them...

But remember that these sites are also for non-experts or, anyway, not necessarily for people that have a Ph.D./MSC in the matter.


Please feel free to ask more questions on research-level linguistics. I'm sure many of us are interested to see them.

In the mean time the questions come from whoever is asking and we all have different interests and knowledge.


Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Questions about working, applied linguistics would seem to be perfectly appropriate.

But that doesn't exclude questions about linguistic theory. If you feel that there are not enough reach-level questions being ask on this site, ask your questions. The questions that appear on the front page will define what this site is about.

Asking the First Questions

Helping define the site is what being a founding member of a beta site is about.

  • How can a person apply something of which they have no knowledge?
    – magnetar
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 21:41

I am sad that you feel that way. As other people say, the content of the sites more or less depends on the people posting it. There are a lot of general enthusiasts with little experience or knowledge in research here which is why you see a lot of general questions.

You can help by asking more good research-oriented questions, answering such questions so that people can be satisfied after asking such questions here, and most importantly inviting real linguists/academics like you to take part in this SE :)


The questions that are already here are colored by the people that are already here. If we get more researchers in, there'll be more research-level questions.

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