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History of the Linguistic Bibliography

Bibliographie Linguistique/Linguistic Bibliography 1949-present


In November 2000 a symposium was organized in The Hague to celebrate the publication of the 50th volume of the Linguistic Bibliography in September of that year. The first volume of this series had been published in two parts in 1949 and 1950 under the title Bibliographie linguistique des années 1939-1947. From 1951 onward subsequent annual volumes had been published, first under the French title, and from 1980 onward under the English title Linguistic bibliography for the year ... and supplements for previous years. The following essay was originally presented at this symposium and it provides an historical overview of the developments since 1949. This text has been updated several times to include later events.


The title of the first volume was followed by a statement of responsibility, which was repeated in all volumes to date: "Publiée par le Comité international permanent de linguistes". As this Permanent International Committee of Linguists (or CIPL) plays an important role in the history of the Bibliographie linguistique (BL), some words about its origins are appropriate here. In April 1928 the First International Congress of Linguists was held in The Hague2. Following a proposition by the French linguist Antoine Meillet, the congress decided that similar congresses were to be organized every three years. To guarantee the continuity of these congresses a Permanent Committee was installed, consisting of 10 members and a secretary-general. Secretary of the first congress, prof. Jos Schrijnen of Nijmegen, was elected first secretary-general. Taking care of the subsequent congresses was not the only task the committee was charged with: organizing other activities such as the Commission d'enquête linguistique (since 1928)3 and the Commission de Terminologie (started in 1931)4 was also part of its mandate.

The first years of BL

The Fifth International Congress of Linguists was planned to take place in Brussels from August 28 through September 2 in 1939. Due to the outbreak of World War II it never took place at all. During the war almost all international contacts were interrupted, especially with European scholars. It was impossible to organize the congresses of 1942 and 1945 according to plan and it was not until the 18th of November 1946 that the Committee first convened again, this time under the presidency of the Norwegian scholar Alf Sommerfelt. During this meeting in Paris it was decided to compile a "linguistic bibliography of the war-years", as mentioned in the preface to the first volume. In the words of the Secretary of the Committee, the Dutch classicist Christine Mohrmann of Nijmegen, the considerations for this decision were as follows:
"On était unanimement d'avis qu'une des tâches les plus urgentes qui se posaient à notre science était de combler la lacune dans notre information, causée par les bouleversements de la guerre: par l'interruption des contacts internationaux pendant de longues années, par la stagnation des grandes publications allemandes et par bien d'autres raisons"5.

The organization of the work was entrusted to the office of CIPL, but it was clear right from the beginning that in the circumstances, with great parts of Europe, Asia and Africa still recovering from the war, it would be impossible for one person, or even a group of people in a single location, to compile such a bibliography. Prof. Mohrmann therefore set out to find linguists in as many countries as possible to compile bibliographies for their respective areas. The task of editing and classifying the collected data would then be performed by the office, i.e. by prof. Mohrmann herself. A classification scheme for the new bibliography was drawn up by the French linguist Jean Gagnepain. In a list of "Indications pour la bibliographie linguistique" Mohrmann suggested that the rules of the Année philologique should be followed for the lay-out and punctuation of the bibliographic descriptions. Actually, the entire set-up of BL is clearly reminiscent of the Année philologique, which had originally started under the title Dix années de bibliographie classique, covering the years 1914-1924. That bibliography, too, was specifically meant to cover war years: in this case those of the First World War6.

In order to appreciate the full extent of this enterprise, we have to bear in mind that in those days the only means of international communication was old fashioned paper mail sent by post; and the early post war years it was often quite slow and unreliable. As late as 1949, a package from Copenhagen was lost in the mail for such a long time that the Danish contributor had almost started to do the work all over again, when it was finally delivered to the Nijmegen office.

Following preparatory work in 1947, the first contributions started to arrive in 1948. Apparently, the task of editing and classifying soon became too much for prof. Mohrmann, and so, at the start of 1949 this work was entrusted to Jan Beylsmit, whose name would remain connected to our biblography for many years to come, to such an extent in fact, that many Dutch linguists used to refer to BL as "de Beylsmit". Jan Beylsmit was born in Amsterdam in 1921. After finishing secondary school in 1938, he did several clerical jobs, and at the same time prepared for his gymnasium diploma. In 1946 he started studying classical philology at Utrecht University, again combining his study with different kinds of jobs, such as work on Latin lexicography. Among the lectures he attended were those of prof. Mohrmann and when she asked her students whether they would be interested in helping her to compile a bibliography of linguistics, it was Beylsmit who volunteered. Although much correspondence from these years was preserved in the CIPL archive, it cannot be determined exactly to what extent the first volumes were the result of Beylsmit's work. He had to submit his work to prof. Mohrmann for supervision, that much is clear. Already at that stage though, he made several suggestions for changes in the classification system and he travelled to Louvain (Belgium) and Switzerland to collect material from libraries that had not been badly damaged during the war. All in all, it seems likely that already the first volume was almost entirely Beylsmit's work.

In the meantime, negotiations had started with the newly founded UNESCO. In December 1948 this organisation promised a subvention of $1000.- per volume. This covered the printing costs of the BL and at the end of 1949 the first volume was published by Utrecht publishing house Spectrum. It contained contributions from 9 European countries as well as from South Africa. The second volume appeared almost a year later and contained material from some 10 other countries, again predominantly European. Almost simultaneously with the appearance of the first volume, on December 1, 1949, an international meeting of linguists-bibliographers was held in Paris to discuss the publication of subsequent volumes to the BL. Indeed, in the preface to the second volume, CIPL announced its continuation on an annual basis. The first of these annual volumes appeared in 1951.

The Beylsmit years

From the 1948 volume onwards, there was a sharp decrease in the number of international correspondents. While the first two volumes counted a total of 27 contributors (including Jan Beylsmit himself), the 1948 volume listed only 8 beside Beylsmit. For BL 1953 Beylsmit had the assistance of only 4 contributors; in 1959 the number was back to 8 and this remained the maximum number of external contributors until the early 1980s. In the first years it was still "the Office of CIPL", in fact prof. Mohrmann, who took editorial responsibility. Gradually, however, the full burden of collecting, classifying and editing data, as well as maintaining the contacts with contributors, was put on the shoulders of Beylsmit. This state of affairs was only reflected in print in BL 1956 (published in 1958) and from that volume onward, Beylsmit's name appeared separately as "editor", followed by a list of contributors. Readers were requested to address "all correspondence regarding the Linguistic Bibliography" to the editor.

In the first ten years, the financial conditions for BL had remained rather unfavorable. The UNESCO subvention allowed the volumes to be printed, but the editor's salary remained a permanent point of dispute. In 1957 Beylsmit got married, a year later he finished his studies at Utrecht University, and he felt he was entitled to a better, more steady social and financial position. As his complaints did not have the desired effect, he applied for a position at Leyden University Library in December 1960. Shortly thereafter a letter arrived at CIPL's office from a Leyden linguist, urging prof. Mohrmann to do everything possible to keep Beylsmit in his post with BL. This plea did have effect. In 1961 CIPL received "emergency subventions" from the Dutch government and from the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington. An arrangement was then made by which Utrecht University gave Beylsmit a scientific appointment at the Institute for Oriental Philology, while the resources for his salary were furnished by CIPL. The CAL renewed its emergency subvention in 1962 and in the meantime applied for a subvention from the National Science Foundation (US), which was granted for the period 1963-1966.

The assistance of the CAL proved important not only for the position of the editor. The 2 years lag that had always existed between the year of BL's publication and the year covered, was seen more and more as a serious disadvantage7. Moreover, keeping track of all of the linguistic publications, a large task from the beginning, gradually became impossible for one person as output was steadily growing. And, not unimportant from the point of view of the CAL, some branches of linguistics such as applied linguistics and machine translation, and some geographical areas such as Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union, were not adequately covered by BL. The CAL produced a Proposal to strengthen and improve the Linguistic Bibliography, submitted to the National Science Foundation in 1962. Apart from the points mentioned above it noted the following weaknesses:

"1. ...
2. It depends almost entirely on the devoted work of one man, Mr. J.J. Beylsmit
3. ...
4. There is no long-term plan to take advantage of modern developments in information retrieval methods.
5. The lack of a topical or cumulative index limits its usefulness."

An agreement was drawn up by which the CAL was to furnish bibliographical data in their own fields (applied linguistics, machine translation, statistical and mathematical linguistics) and from "the Asian area". CIPL would take care of a better coverage of the Soviet Union and Eastern European areas - this was accomplished in October 1963 when Dutch slavist Nico Schroten was appointed assistant editor. Moreover, the Linguistics Research Center of the University of Texas wrote a proposal for the "preparation of cumulative indexed bibliography of linguistics literature". According to this proposal a cumulative index would be prepared, covering the period 1952-1961, on the basis of BL for these years. "The bibliography will be stored and produced in a large-scale digital computing system; the data will also be permanently available for rapid selective retrieval". The draft notes, which are kept in the BL archive, list additional possibilities: "1. The maintenance of a cumulative classified bibliography on a regular basis, incorporating current materials and providing for rapid period publication" in order to reduce the time lag to 2-3 months, and "2. Implementation of selective information searches in response to special retrieval requests".

The available archives do not clarify why this proposal was not implemented. Some remarks in the correspondence make one suspect that at least part of the reason for this failure was the reluctance of Jan Beylsmit to accept drastic changes. With all his accuracy and devotion, he was a rather conservative man with little confidence in new technology (and of course, in 1963 computer technology was still in its infancy). Even a proposal from CAL to take care of temporarily analysing a considerable amount of journals, in order to help him speed up the compilation of BL, was met by him with objections and ultimately he declined.

The NSF grant and, as a result, the practical assistance by CAL, were not continued after 1966. Thus CIPL and BL found themselves in the same difficult position as before. A number of new subsidizers were found (listed in BL 1966), but the funds raised in this way could not fully amend the loss of the NSF grant and did not allow CIPL to give Mr Schroten the prospect of a permanent appointment. This seems to have been the main reason why he left BL in 1967. Several months later, he was replaced by the Utrecht classicist Miss Jetske Rijlaarsdam. It was only in 1970 that her position as assistant-editor was secured, when the Dutch Ministry of Education and Science agreed to fund the salaries of the BL staff.

However, this improvement did not mean that any of the CAL recommendations were realised: the time lag was not reduced, and no attempt was made to produce a keyword index or a cumulative index. In fact, the personal relationship between the editor and his assistant developed in a counterproductive way. Their cooperation had started in an optimistic way, but after some years personal frictions arose and had an impact on their joint work: BL 1971 was published with an extra year's delay in 1974. Attempts by Mohrmann as well as by her successor E.M. Uhlenbeck to improve the relations were to no avail. On the contrary, Rijlaarsdam fell ill in 1979 as a result of the tensions and for some years Beylsmit had to do the work on his own again. Thanks to an extra subvention from the Dutch government, temporary assistance could be realised in 1981. The new assistant, Hans Borkent, was not a linguist but a sociologist with a working knowledge of modern languages and Bahasa Indonesia, as he had done fieldwork in the Indonesian archipelago. It was the Indonesian connection that had brought him in contact with Uhlenbeck, a specialist of Javanese. As Borkent's task for the coming months was limited to assist in proof-reading BL 1978, his non-linguistic background was not seen as a problem. The next year, however, Rijlaarsdam's appointment was discontinued, as she did not recover from her illness. Borkent took over as permanent assistant.

By that time, Beylsmit had reached the age of 61, and began to consider early retirement - a possibility that was opened up by a new government policy to reduce unemployment. In order to facilitate a smooth transition to a new editorship, a second assistant-editor was attracted in September 1982 - a young linguist this time: the Ghent classicist Mark Janse, who had recently come into contact with Uhlenbeck when he was seeking feedback for the thesis he was working on.

BL's new editors

The year 1983 brought two changes which proved crucial for BL in the long term. First, new and better housing was found for the BL staff. In previous years, Beylsmit had worked at home in Amersfoort and later in Hoevelaken; Rijlaarsdam had had a little room at the Utrecht Institute for Oriental Philology, although apparently she had not used it much. Borkent had a desk at Uhlenbeck's offices in Leyden and Janse worked at home in Ghent (Belgium). In 1983 however, Uhlenbeck came to an agreement with the director-general of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek - the national library of the Netherlands - to house the BL staff in two rooms in the brand new library building in The Hague. The Koninklijke Bibliotheek also took on the formal task of paying out the editors' salaries, the funds for which were still furnished by the Dutch Ministry of Education and Science, separately from the library's regular budget. In the course of time, as a side effect of some changes in government policies, the BL staff became completely integrated into the library organization. This development fitted the objectives of CIPL's new secretary-general, Leyden lexicologist Piet van Sterkenburg perfectly. He had succeeded Uhlenbeck in 1992 and in his opinion the position of the BL staff should no longer be dependent on the whims of subsidizers or the fate of CIPL. And so, from September 1996 the Koninklijke Bibliotheek had a Bureau Linguistic Bibliography which, as of September 1999, functioned as one of the three constituent parts of the department for "Scientific Bibliography and Documentation". CIPL in its turn supported the efforts of the library and its Bureau by contributing to the assistant's salary.

The other major change in 1983 was the retirement of Beylsmit at the age of 62. Two editors now stepped into his place: Hans Borkent and Mark Janse. Beylsmit kept contributing to the Baltic and Slavic sections in particular, and continued to give his assistance in preparing the annual printed volumes. During Beylsmit's editorship BL had grown from a rather slim volume (285 pages in the first annual volume, for 1948) to a stout work of 911 pages for 1981. BL 1962 was the first volume to have numbered entries and they amounted to a total of 9,241 whilst the 1981 volume contained 15,069 entries. The classification had been modernised and extended now and again. Beginning with BL 1962 the sections for individual languages were subdivided along the lines of the General linguistics section; in BL 1972 a major revision of the classification scheme had been implemented and smaller revisions followed in later years. The number of contributors, however, had remained as small as it had been in 1950: 9 for BL 1981. Also, the increase in the time lag that had developed in the early '70s had not been eliminated and BL 1981 appeared in 1984. CAL's suggestions for improvement had led to nothing - a keyword index was still lacking and no attempts were made to apply computer technology. Nevertheless, throughout these years BL was welcomed with praise by almost all reviewers: "a major bibliography in this field", "Grundbibliographie auch der griechischen Sprachwissenschaft", "Lingvistikabibliografia suurteos/Das Meisterwerk der Linguistic Bibliography" were some of the qualifications we encountered8.

The new editorial team started with two clear objectives: to reduce the time lag and to improve the coverage of linguistic literature by broadening the network of contributors. Both goals were realized remarkably soon: in 1985 two volumes appeared, covering the years 1982 and 1983 respectively, thus returning to the original time lag of two years. Moreover, whilst BL 1984 contains a list of 18 contributors, that number increased to 42 in subsequent years.

On the 19th of February 1986 Jan Beylsmit passed away, only 64 years of age9. To fill the gap he left behind, especially in collecting and editing Baltic and Slavic data, a new assistant editor was found: Sijmen Tol, who was a librarian at the time and who had a background in Slavic linguistics. A few years later, in 1989, Borkent found employment that suited him better, in his own field of specialisation, and Tol succeeded him as an editor.

Toward an online searchable database

In an unpublished paper of 1987 the present author discussed a number of shortcomings of BL, which in general turn out to be much the same as we find in the CAL report of 1962. Again, the only solution that could be suggested was: computerisation and the creation of an online searchable database. Of course, it was not the first time since the 1960s that this subject came up: in 1984 there had been exploratory talks with PICA, the cooperative body of Dutch scientific libraries for catalogue computerisation, to see if they could offer a practical solution to BL's problems. The answer was very succinct: no, we can offer you no help. It was only in 1990 that computerisation became a serious point of discussion.

In 1980 there had been a change of publisher; starting with the 1976 volume, BL was published by Kluwer Academic Publishers, first under its imprint Martinus Nijhoff, and from 1988 (BL 1986) onward under the name of Kluwer. From 1981 this publisher committed the typesetting of BL to a small firm, in fact a one-woman enterprise, but in early 1990 this typesetter, Inge Angevaare, privately announced to the editors that she was about to close her business. Together they produced a plan for a step-by-step computerisation, first of the compilation and editing of BL, which would gradually result in a completely computerized book production process as well as a database which was to serve several purposes, including online retrieval. Both CIPL and Kluwer gave their consent to this plan, which was to be implemented with the help of Miss Angevaare. Alas, before the contracts were signed she fell seriously ill for quite a long period, and that was the end of this project.

The positive result, however, was that now all parties were convinced of the necessity to proceed along these lines. Kluwer initiated some studies to analyze the complete production process of the bibliography and in the spring of 1994 a session was organized at Kluwer's offices to demonstrate a model of an input and editing system for BL, which should result in a database from which both printed and electronic versions of the bibliography were to be extracted. At the time it was expected that a first version of this system could be implemented within a few months, in January-February 1995, in order to produce the next volume, BL 1993, toward the end of 1995. However, no annual volume appeared that year, and when it appeared eventually in June 1996, it showed quite a lot of visible shortcomings. Nonetheless, what was called "the BL-system" was developed further by InfoControl, a company later operating under the name ILX.

It took no blood, but it did take a lot of people a very great deal of effort, much irritation, sweat and even, at times, tears, not to forget the money and much more time than anyone could have foreseen at the outset, before the content management system known as "BibLing" reached its completion. The time lag between the year of publication and the year covered even grew to four years, and plans to publish BL on CD-ROM were aborted after one unsuccessful prototype. But by the end of 2000 the teething troubles had been overcome; and although some wishes remained to be fulfilled, the celebration of BL's 50th volume seemed to be the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the prototype of an online retrieval system, enabling the international linguistic community to search the BL-database directly.

Emergency measures

The preceding paragraphs were written for a symposium, organized to commemorate the 50th volume of BL, on November 2nd, 2000. By then it was expected that it would not take more than 3-4 months to turn the prototype of Linguistic Bibliography Online, as presented at the symposium, into a definitive version. The idea was that the prototype, which had been developed by ILX in its own Windows NT environment, should be converted to an Oracle database running under Unix at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. Subsequently the same conversion would be applied to the content management system BibLing, so that in the end all BL-systems would be maintained on the library's network.

After a one and a half year period of trying and experimenting it turned out that there were undocumented differences between Oracle for Windows NT and Oracle for Unix, preventing a successful conversion of the database. In June 2002 an emergency plan was adopted: under the name "BLonline" the Koninklijke Bibliotheek would offer access to the BL database in the form of a home page and a few pages with documentation. The search button on the home page was to redirect the user to the database on ILX's server. Thus, on June 15th, 2002, BLonline was launched and made available to every linguist with access to the internet without any further costs. This free access was in accordance both with the library's policy regarding access to their databases, and with the publisher's plan to use BLonline as a portal directing the users to Kluwer's linguistic publications and to those of other interested parties. Several linguists reacted with great enthusiam to the online publication of the BL database. In reaction to the editors' announcement that "an important tool had become available", Wayles Brown of Cornell University, for instance, wrote on the SEELANGS-list: "'Important' is an understatement; this is one of the finest tools available to linguists, and we owe a massive vote of thanks to the compilers and editors."

Last years at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek

With BLonline being published at last, it remained the goal of all parties involved to have all BL software installed on the library's network. This goal, however, was never achieved as technical problems kept coming up and by the time (fall 2004) a workable solution was agreed upon, other developments prevented its implementation. In the meantime changes had come about in the staffing of BL. Apart from the part-time assistance funded by CIPL, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek appointed another part-time assistant. As the BL staff were part of the library organization, they could offer internships to students of linguistics. Together with some other temporary arrangements this resulted in as many as eight people being involved in compiling and editing BL in the course of 2004. Most of them, however, worked on a part-time basis so that the full time staff never consisted of more than four persons. At the same time a more permanent change took place. During 2002-2003 one of the editors, Mark Janse, went on a sabbatical funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) to write a grammar of Cappadocian, a nearly extinct Greek dialect, the speakers of which were expelled from Turkey to Greece in the 1920's. He was temporarily replaced by the hispanist Hella Olbertz from Amsterdam. Shortly before his return to the BL staff, Janse was offered a research position at Ghent University, where he had been a visiting professor in Greek and general linguistics already since 1996. After an editorship of more than 21 years, Mark Janse left BL on February 1st, 2004. One month later Olbertz succeeded him as BL editor.

The year 2004 proved to be another crucial year in the history of the Linguistic Bibliography. From the moment the editors had moved to the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in 1983, BL had been the 'odd-man-out' within the library organization. The library acted as the employer of the editors, paid their salaries, but was not the owner of their product. The bibliography, both in its printed and electronic forms, remained the juridical property of CIPL whereas the copyrights were in the hands of Kluwer Academic Publishers, who received the profits and paid royalties to CIPL rather than to the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. The library manager in charge, dr. Els van Eijck van Heslinga, felt that this state of affairs should not be continued. Immediately after the BL-symposium in November 2000 she started negotiations with CIPL and Kluwer. Her aim was to create a situation in which the library would have the main responsibility for the publication of BL in cooperation with only one other party, either CIPL or Kluwer, a construction the library used for several other publications too. These talks dragged on for some years, several draft agreements were written, but never to the complete satisfaction of all parties, and they were never signed. So, when in the early fall of 2004 the complete library management had another round of "contemplating the library's core business", the decision was made that BL was not part of that core. In October CIPL's secretary-general was informed that the library intended to end the services for CIPL and the BL editors, granting him a year's time to find a new organizational setting for BL.

As a logical consequence, the ongoing attempts to integrate BL software in the library's network were immediately stopped. Nevertheless, a project to upgrade the search facilities of BLonline and to solve some urgent problems in the content management system BibLing was carried out in 2005 as this project had already been approved earlier and financial reservations had been made. On July 11th, 2005 the editors proudly announced that a new, user-friendly interface had become available.

More or less simultaneously the editors decided the time had come for a change in their editorial policy. Until then, BL had claimed to cover "scholarly publications on all languages and on all branches of linguistics, regardless of the place or language of publication". In fact, however, it had long become impossible to substantiate the claim of completeness with the limited financial and human resources available. With the consent of CIPL's Executive Committee the editors were now going to focus on what had always been a strength of BL, i.e. languages that were poorly or not at all covered by other international bibliographies of linguistics, thus creating a specific niche for BL. This was announced in the preface of BL 2002 and more explicitly on the BLonline website; in the wording of 2008:

"The Linguistic Bibliography Online provides bibliographical references to scholarly publications in linguistics. It covers all branches of linguistics, both theoretical and descriptive, from all geographical areas. The emphasis is on non-Indo-European languages and lesser known Indo-European languages, including endangered and extinct languages. As regards the place of publication, the focus is particularly on hard-to-access linguistic works published outside Western Europe and North America."

Moving to Brill

Finding a new organizational setting for the BL team turned out to be rather cumbersome. After two years of negotiations with several possible partners in The Netherlands, it was the Leyden Instituut voor Nederlandse Lexicologie (Institute for Dutch Lexicology, INL) which eventually agreed to become the new host. It was no doubt helpful that INL's director at that time, Piet van Sterkenburg, was also the secretary-general of CIPL. On January 1st, 2007 (one day later, actually) the editors with their belongings moved to Leyden, but not to the premises of the INL. As the institute was short of space, an editorial office had been found elsewhere, and it was Brill publishers who volunteered to host the editors, which was not accidental, of course. At that time Brill publishers were developing plans to establish a new language and linguistics program, which would comprise the company's activities in this field where, in fact, it had been active throughout its long history. Therefore, Brill was interested in acquiring the BL as a possible center around which this new program could be built. In this way BL could take in a central position at Brill, where for Kluwer Academic Publishers it was and would be only one of many products. This was the case even more so after Kluwer had been taken over by Springer in 2005. Moving to Brill therefore seemed to be a very promising opportunity for all parties involved, especially as Brill was not only renowned for its long-standing tradition in publications on classical and non-European languages, but also could provide ample experience in electronic publishing. When, due to internal restructuring, INL unexpectedly announced the end of its involvement with BL after only a year, Brill became the employer of the editors as of January 2008 and took over the publication of BL as of April 1st of that year.

When in the summer of 2006 the editors were first informed that a change of publisher was at hand, they seized this opportunity to realize the long cherished project to improve the searchability of the bibliography by adding keywords to the records. That summer, Hella Olbertz drafted a list of keywords and in November 2006 a first version was distributed among BL contributors. As a result, the first volume published by Brill, covering the year 2004, was the first one to provide not only the traditional index of names, but also language and subject indexes. More innovations were initiated with the transition to Brill and at last it was decided to complete the change to the English language title of the bibliography and henceforth use the abbreviation LB instead of BL. Accordingly, the title of the online version was changed to Linguistic Bibliography Online. And, more substantially, for the first time in the history of LB, an advisory board was installed, consisting of experts in the focal areas of the bibliography.

Later developments

Soon after Brill started acting as LB's publisher, three further improvements were planned: firstly, to have a new content management system developed which, among other things, would have to fully facilitate linking services to online publications; secondly, to develop a new online version which was to make use of these new services; thirdly, to fill the four-year gap in LB's coverage, which was made possible through a major investment by Brill and CIPL. With respect to this last point, it should be noted that when Brill acquired the Linguistic Bibliography, the editorial staff had been reduced to two persons only, causing considerable backlogs. In March and April 2009 two temporary editors were appointed for two years to reduce these backlogs and to add keywords to existing records of previous years. At the same time, the editors announced that the year given in the title would henceforward indicate the year in which the data were collected, rather than the year of publication of the titles listed. The transition to the new system was marked by the Linguistic Bibliography for the years 2005-2008.

In November 2009 the Linguistic Bibliography Online (LBO) database was launched on a new platform, including enhanced search options and facilities for subscribing libraries to link the data to their own collections of electronic publications. As soon as LBO was published by Brill as a commercial product, the freely accessible BLonline database was removed from the internet.

The first project, the new content management system (CMS), turned out to be harder to realize, but there was an undisputed need for it, as BibLing, the existing CMS, was completely outdated after 15 years of service. A functional design was finished in October 2008, and the software developers of Ambrac (Deventer) started their preparations soon afterwards, but it was not until April 2011 that the migration to the new CMS could be completed. In this respect the development of BALI (Bibliographic Application for Linguistic Information), as it came to be called, was reminiscent of the situation in 1995 when the first "BLsystem" was built. However, the main advantages of BALI are that it is a state-of-the-art CMS, completely web-based and at last facilitating the incorporation of references to online publications.

In the course of 2011 the LB staff was extended to 2.7 fte, so that Hella Olbertz and Sijmen Tol were now joined by anglicist Eline van der Veken and slavicist René Genis. In the summer of 2014 Hella Olbertz left the LB-staff to take up a research position at the University of São Paulo, Campus of São José do Rio Preto in Brazil. Her position at the LB was taken by Katja Bobyleva who studied linguistics in Saint Petersburg and Amsterdam and defended her PhD-thesis on creolistics at the University of Amsterdam in 2013.

In his paper for the 18th International Congress of Linguists in Seoul, 200810, the present author argued that, despite the existence of large search engines on the internet, specialized online bibliographies remain an indispensable tool for linguists. The efforts described above aim at guaranteeing the continued usability of the Linguistic Bibliography as such a tool.


1 This essay is almost exclusively based on the archives of CIPL and the Linguistic Bibliography, and on some personal memories of the author and his colleagues.
2 Mohrmann, Christine: L'organization et l'activité du Comité international permanent de linguistes. - Utrecht/Bruxelles : Spectrum, 1949. p. 13.
3 ibid. p. 27.
4 ibid. p. 34.
5 ibid. p. 37.
6 Dix années de bibliographie linguistique : bibliographie critique et analytique de l'antiquité gréco-latine pour la période 1914-1924 / publ. par J. Marouzeau. - Paris : Les belles lettres, 1927-1928. p. vi.
7 Already in 1953 Marcel Cohen in a review of BL 1950 expressed the hope that the interval could be reduced. Cf. Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique 49/2, 1953. p. 4.
8 Guide to reference material / Ed. by A. J. Walford. - 3rd ed. - London : Library Association, 1977. Vol. 3, p. 204.
Latacz, Joachim: Zusammenfassender Literaturbericht für die Jahre 1951-1980 : griechische Sprache (altgriechisch). In: Glotta 60/3-4, 1982, p. 136-161.
Kiiski, H.; Uibo, U.: Lingvistikabibliografia suurteos ja eesti keel = Das Meisterwerk der Linguistic Bibliography und die estnische Sprache. In: Keel ja kirjandus 26, 1983, 214-216.
9 More biographical data in: Janse, Mark: Johannes Jurrian Beylsmit (1921-1986). In: Historiographia Linguistica, 13/2-3, 1986, 469-471.
10Tol, Sijmen: Finding linguistic publications on and off the web : requirements for an ideal search tool. In: Current issues in unity and diversity of languages : collection of the papers selected from the CIL 18, held at Korea University in Seoul, on July 21-26, 2008. A pdf copy of this paper is available here.

Sijmen Tol
Linguistic Bibliography
November 2000, last updated: November 2014