Editors in the Global Academic Community

Susan Holzman

I have consulted my dictionary, my thesaurus, my usage book and my grammar book. I have checked these sources online and “onshelf.” I have searched a corpus as well. I have used all my resources to make the language in my client’s article standard and acceptable. I have rewritten problematic sentences and scrutinized the pronoun references. Infinitives are not split; sentences are neither fragmented nor run-on; modifiers are not dangling.

I have gone beyond the sentence: The conjunctions and the sentence modifiers are appropriate; the level of formality is consistent; the sentences flow and the content is coherent. Can I now tell my “multilingual” client that this article can be sent off to a blind peer-review high-impact journal with expectations of acceptance and perhaps even praise?

Let me explain multilingual client. The literature offers numerous euphemisms for academic writers whose first language is not English: “multilingual” was used by Uzuner (2008) and Curry (2004); “non-native speaker (NNS) authors” is the nomenclature used by Burrough-Boenisch (2003); scholarly writers who use English as an additional language (EAL) was used by Flowerdew (2008); the acronym EILS (English as an international language of science) was used by Tardy  (2004); Coates, Sturgeon, Bohannan and Pasini (2002) called them “non-mother English tongue authors.” While the appellation is not of critical importance, I prefer the term multilingual. Multilingual emphasizes the positive of these scholars. They live and work all over the world; however, they need to publish in English.  They keep up with the latest developments in their field by reading academic books and journals in English. The world of scholarship wants to hear from them.  Globalization demands a more inclusive perspective, and this makes their contributions to scholarly publication important (Flowerdew, 2001). Editors can help their voices be heard.

How can an editor best serve the multilingual client? 

Working from knowledge of the problems and challenges facing these scholars is an excellent starting point.  Applied linguistics journals have identified these issues in numerous articles (See Bibliography). In the Journal of English for Academic Purposes, Uzuner (2008) synthesized the findings from 39 empirical studies that “investigated multilingual scholars’ participation in core/global academic communities through article and research publication” (p. 250). Some of the studies used human subjects; others involved textual analysis; a few used both textual analysis and interviews. Uzuner lists a number of problems and challenges for multilingual scholars who wish to publish in English. Those that are likely to concern the editor are: language, parochialism, and divergence from the accepted norms of research reporting.

Language: As editors, we are familiar with language issues. We deal with a variety of them, ranging from incoherent sentences to slight differences in form and meaning. The writers of these sentences have a range of English proficiency. We advise, suggest, and correct in order to present a text that is clear, concise, and accurate according to standard norms of English.

Parochialism: This is a more complex challenge. On the one hand, journals call themselves “international” and want to appeal to international audiences. In the natural sciences, any existing phenomena, no matter how local, are interesting to scientists all over the world. However, in the social sciences and humanities this is less likely to be true. In such cases, authors are expected to explain the relevance and significance of their studies to a wider audience. There is no doubt that there is interest in situated research, and such research would be reported in quality journals if and when some connection or association is made to broader or more general research issues. The editor can advise the author to make such connections or associations.

Divergence from the accepted norms of research reporting: This is another difficult challenge.  The multilingual author may follow local rhetorical conventions or simply be unaware of the traditional research-reporting formats. Reviewers might accept manuscripts deviating from conventional format due to the prominence of an institution or author. Even in double-blind reviews, reviewers can often identify the author of an article because of recognizable research topics or methodologies. However, the non-conventional research reporting of multilingual authors may be the death-knell for their articles. The editor may be able to rescue such articles by suggesting that they strictly conform to the customary format.

Editing in the global community is a vocation. Through the medium of English, editors can be the intermediaries that will empower multilingual authors by helping them disseminate their knowledge and foster scholarly communication. Editors can dismantle barriers that discriminate against authors in the periphery and connect them to the mainstream.

Reference

Uzuner, S. (2008). Multilingual scholars’ participation in core/global academic communities: A literature review. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 7, 250-263. doi:10.1016/j.jeap.2003.10.001

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