New journal focuses on how the mind and brain process language

The open-access, online-only Glossa Psycholinguistics recently published its inaugural issue after more than two years of effort from Penn linguist Florian Schwarz and colleagues around the world.

A cartoon drawing of two silhouetted heads facing each other, with lines to indicate speaking, moving from the mouths to the brains around in a circle.

Researchers like Penn’s Florian Schwarz who work in psycholinguistics try to understand how the mind and brain process language. “When we hear or read language, for example, how do we piece together the different layers to make sense of what a word is and what a sentence is and what they might mean?” Schwarz says.

Psycholinguistics lives partly in linguistics, partly in psychology, as well as in cognitive science, computer science, and neuroscience. Though papers on this kind of work appear in all manner of academic journal, no publication had focused specifically on the intersection between the fields. So, Schwarz and colleagues, including Fernanda Ferreira of the University of California, Davis, Brian Dillon of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Johan Rooryck of cOAlition S and Linguistics in Open Access (LingOA), and others decided to create one.

Logo for the publication Glossa Psycholinguistics, with colored hexagons all touching and interconnected on the left-hand side.

After two years of behind-the-scenes work from this team figuring out how to start, fund, and run an academic publication, Glossa Psycholinguistics came online, publishing its first four papers on subjects like experimental syntax and use of the pronoun “they” for individuals. Schwarz is one of six associate editors for the journal, which is open-access and online-only. Ferreira and Dillon are co-editors-in-chief.

A model to follow

Though the publication itself is new, the concept of such a product is not. In April 2016, the inaugural issue of an open-access journal called Glossa published, aimed at general linguistics and with Rooryck at its helm.

Today, the work Rooryck does works to remove academic publishing barriers like cost and inaccessibility. In 2015, in addition to his roles at cOAlition S and LingOA, he was also executive editor of the journal Lingua. “He really wanted to move it toward an open-access model, but the publisher was not game,” Schwarz says. “Those conversations culminated in the entire editorial team quitting and starting up a new publication, Glossa. It was a huge success.”

Ferreira and others in the field took note. “The story goes that it started with a dream. Fernanda had a dream that there should be a new open-access journal for psycholinguistic research,” Schwarz recalls. Why not use the Glossa model to create an offshoot that picked up on the brand but was specific to psycholinguistic research?

Florian Schwarz.
Florian Schwarz, an associate professor in the Department of Linguistics at Penn, is one of six associate editors on the new journal. His own research looks at the study of meaning. (Image: Courtesy of Florian Schwarz)

At a virtual conference in March 2020, Ferreira and Dillon floated the idea of this new journal to the research community, putting out a call for people to join the editorial board. Schwarz signed on. By the end of that year, a team of eight psycholinguists started setting up a publishing interface, writing a constitution, and determining the peer-review and publishing processes for what would become Glossa Psycholinguistics. They secured funding from the Penn Libraries and elsewhere and soon after started soliciting papers.

Its open-access aspect remains a top priority, Schwarz says. “There’s no commercial interest. No one gets paid anything, and the journal can never get sold, so that it will remain open access in the long term,” he says. “We are very ambitiously and clearly aiming to be amongst the top players in terms of quality and representativeness in psycholinguistics.”

‘Watching as this unfolds’

The first piece Glossa Psycholinguistics published was an editorial from Ferreira and Dillon. In it, they describe the publication’s history and goals, including the desire for a venue that “places language science at the core of its mission and publishes work that spans the diverse range of methodologies, frameworks, populations, and theoretical questions that characterize the broad field of psycholinguistics.”

Like articles in its sister publication, Glossa Psycholinguistics papers go through a double-masked peer review, meaning authors don’t know the identity of reviewers and vice versa. The pieces publish as soon as they’re ready, unembargoed, and authors must make all data associated with their submission openly available. Readers pay nothing to access the content, and authors pay a nominal fee if they are able. “This rests on the assumption that the field is dedicated and acting responsibly, that the people who can pay will,” Schwarz says.

As more issues publish, the journal will keep evolving. “We’ll likely aim for a couple dozen articles the first year, and it will grow,” Schwarz says. “This happened with Glossa as well. Glossa might publish as many as 100 or more articles a year, and I think in the long run we’ll head to something similar. We’re all watching as this unfolds.”

It’s a new outlet for this research, owned and run by the scholarly community that cares most about it, as they continue working to bridge the theoretical and cognitive perspectives on how the mind and brain process language.

Florian Schwarz is an associate professor and undergraduate chair in the Department of Linguistics in the School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also a member of the Graduate Group in Psychology and associate director of education for MindCORE, Penn’s hub for the integrated study of the mind.