The Importance (or Not) of Writing in English in the Scholarly ContextNatalia Fernández Díaz-Cabal, Ph.D. | 2016-04-14
Reflections of a Spanish professor.
Many years ago, when I started as a professor and a researcher in different areas of the humanities and social sciences (media and gender studies, critical discourse analysis, medical narratives, negotiation/resolution of conflicts, and social images of diseases), publishing academic writings in English was a necessary luxury to have an internationally oriented curriculum vitae (CV).
Nowadays, it is more than that: it is a mandatory step for the “market” of indexed journals.
Despite this circumstance, based on the language hegemony and its political connotations, I have to remark that I belong to a cultural context with some very significant features, at least from a linguistic point of view: Spanish, just like English, is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. For this reason, even now, there is a kind of resistance among my colleagues to write articles in English, unless they have co-authors helping them in the sometimes difficult task of translating or expressing themselves in a foreign language. Of course, the situation is changing subtly, slowly. After all, one consequence of globalization is a certain homogeneity (of thought, style, and communication channels).
The benefits of publishing in English are clear: a worldwide projection in one’s area of research, more possibilities of getting potential readers and an internationally tailored CV.
I used to participate in publications from Sage - most of them were in the area of Social Sciences. My main role was to write several encyclopedia entries - first in the Encyclopedia of Global Health, assuming some concepts related to gender and sexuality, and lately in the Sage Encyclopedia of Cancer and Society. In my fields of research and in terms of international indexed journals, there is a wide spectrum in Hispanic countries. The cultural and academic offer of Latin America proves its high quality and vitality, and in Spain, most journals accept articles in both languages, English or Spanish.
However, a large majority of journals related to my areas of research or teaching (mainly discourse analysis, medical narratives, gender studies or intercultural communication) are published by consolidated and prestigious British-American editing houses such as Sage or Routledge. Just to mention a few journals: “Discourse and Society” (Sage Publications) is one of the first journals in the field of Critical Discourse Analysis; “Journal of Multicultural Discourses” (Routledge) is regularly published for the last 10 years; “Journal of Gender Studies” (Routledge) already has 25 years of history. Finally, I should add “Journal of Medical Humanities” (Springer), a publication that started in the 80´s of the last century. Besides, we have to specify that encyclopedic projects are not common in our Spanish-speaking region.
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I am also a reviewer for several publications, always in English, or at least most of them are in English. The demand for this task is particularly noteworthy in some academically emergent countries like India. This experience sometimes requires me to assume a difficult role because English is not my native language, even though I can contribute based on my own knowledge evaluation.
Finally, we should not forget that style, clarity, good grammar and impeccable wording (in other words, the formal aspects) are as important as the content itself. I am speaking from my own experience. However, at this point, it is easy to imagine that throughout the world there is a significant number of reviewers who have to make suggestions and give advice about a text written in a language that is probably neither the language of the reviewers nor of the referees. I do not know if any accurate statistics exists about this possibility.
It would be helpful to have a description of the average reviewers and referees of the international indexed journals. Using these data, we could better visualize the real use of English in international publications and its actual scope. From that point of view, a service that offers to improve, modify or directly provide support in writing of academic articles in English would be not only useful, but rather mandatory.
An additional comment:
If we intend to globalize procedures and results in diverse areas, we should choose the best way to do it.
Once the dream of Esperanto (an artificially constructed language for facilitating the mutual understanding between people) failed and the golden period of Francophonie was extinguished, it seemed quite important, even urgent, to have a common language that provides access to universal scenarios.
The eagerness to communicate (at the highest levels of knowledge, disciplines, and categories) underlies the experience of people from all times and cultures. However, we may need to wait several decades to clearly understand the benefits or failures of the universal exercise in linguistic, scholarly and somehow ideological homogenization.
About the author:
Natalia Fernández Díaz-Cabal holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics (2000; University of Barcelona) and a Ph.D. in Logic and Philosophy of Science (2012; Madrid, UNED), MA in Human Sexuality (1994), MA in Music and Musical Language (1986), MA in German Philology (1990) and Advanced Certificate in Pedagogy (1990).
Professor of International and Intercultural Communication and Intercultural negotiation and resolution of conflicts at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona. As a professor, she is involved in the master’s degrees: “Health and welfare” (resolution of conflicts in the area of health and in the doctor/patient relations; analysis of social perceptions and public discourses in the field of health and disease), “China-European Union” (intercultural and international communication, media analysis), and “Crossing the Mediterranean. Towards Investment and Integration” (negotiation and resolution of conflicts).
Translator of 9 languages. Author of several books and articles on gender, language, media and intercultural and international communication.
International gender trainer, guest professor and researcher on intercultural and international communication/conflict resolution and negotiation in different countries from Europe (Spain, Holland, Belgium, Portugal, France, England, Italy, Czech Republic, and Macedonia), Asia (Turkey and China), and the Americas (Mexico, Canada, Argentina, and Paraguay). Trainer and professor of Spanish as a second language since 1993, specifically in the field of its linguistic and socio-cultural contexts, as applied to policy, business and cooperation.
(For more information, please visit my page at LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/natalia-fern%C3%A1ndez-d%C3%ADaz-cabal-0252857b/en)
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