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10/12/2018

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Humanati

Regarding the possibility of explicitly notifying reviewers that the author is a non-native English speaker...one worry that arises here concerns anonymity. Now the reviewer not only knows that the author works on X, and that the author favours position Y, but also that the author is a non-native English speaker. That might narrow down the pool of potential authors enough to raise worries about blind review. I don't think that's necessarily devastating for the proposal, but it would be something worth considering.

Non-native speaker

I'm a non-native speaker, and my impression is that when reviewers don't independently know my identity, they don't notice that I am (I got my fair share of mean reviewer comments, but none was about the quality of my English). So, I would be strongly opposed to giving out this information, which I highly doubt would benefit me. On the bright side, while it's basically impossible to completely suppress a foreign accent (I tried at some point, only to fail miserably!), it's very much possible to learn to produce native-level academic prose. Compared to literature, the kind of prose that is expected in the journals is very repetitive, formulaic, and has a pretty low vocabulary.

I hope this won't come across as too harsh, but perhaps precisely because I'm a non-native speaker myself, I have a very low tolerance for poor writing in philosophy. That being said, most of the bad prose I see is from well-established people who are typically native speakers of English, not ESL-s self-conscious about their writing (like the reader above). Nice, clean and idiomatic writing is learnable. My method many years ago was to compile a dictionary with various English phrases (from philosophy papers I read) that I wouldn't normally have used in my own writing. Every time I wrote a paper, I tried to use at least some of those phrases; sometimes I would ask friends to see what works and what doesn't. After a few years it became my second nature to already write the first draft like that. Long story short, you can easily save the money and the trouble of paying an editor.

Amanda

I don't support the checking a box because of what Humanati says: it is already very easy to violate blind review, and this would make it even easier.

I don't understand something made in the original query, i.e.,the "impossibility of paying someone to edit her writing"? Why is this impossible? There are editors one can find online. Admittedly this is expensive, so no one who doesn't have the benefit of independent wealth could use it too often, but maybe on occasion.

do I really want to wade into this

With all due respect, it is not unreasonable to expect a person applying for a university position in the English speaking world to be able to write in clear English prose. The English language job market is not the only job market in academic philosophy. Further, there is something perverse - if it is being suggested - that people who have developed such skills, (either because it is their first language or like Non-native speaker, above, who has developed these skills) not be recognized and rewarded for this. Whatever compensation or openness we have for people lacking such skills, it should not extend to punishing those who have developed the skills.

Pendaran

Reviewing papers is a total act of charity in the current system. Trying to read complicated ideas that are written poorly is not pleasant. I suspect reviewers will show very little charity towards poor writing. However, perhaps if they understood the person wasn't a native speaker, they might adjust accordingly. So, I guess I'm in the minority: I say reviewers should be notified. This is not to say that we should accept poor writing in our journals. It's only to say that we shouldn't reject good ideas out of hand just because they're written poorly.

Amanda

Pendaran if we shouldn't reject ideas just because they are poorly written, wouldn't that apply to all papers, not just non- native speakers? After all, some people are just not good writers, even if English is their first language.I can think of some very famous philosophers were this is almost certainly the case.

Anyway, I think clear writing is super important. So if you aren't writing clearly, for any reason, you need to make up for it in *especially* interesting work - at least if I am your referee.

G

I find this topic very interesting to me as a non-native speaker, partly because my own experience supports opposite views. I do not know how I should think about the issue, but I just want to share some thoughts.

My native language is one of the eastern languages, and it is dramatically different from English. I think there is a huge difference whether a non-native speaker's language is French or Japanese. I could be wrong, but my impression is that it is far easier for a native French speaker to write native-level academic prose than a native Japanese speaker. It seems nice if my writing skills will not affect whether my paper will be accepted.

However, the current situation seems that people do care about your prose. When I just started graduate school, I was publicly humiliated by a professor in a "writing seminar" because he thought my writing style "was totally wrong" (and then he announced that he would not read my writing). I was told from time to time that I had to work on my writing if I wanted to be a good philosopher. I know some people like me spent a lot of time, energy, and money working on writing skills. If suddenly reviewers become more tolerant, I have to say that I would feel that I had wasted too much time and money working on my prose. Do not get me wrong; I have improved a lot and I think it is valuable. I just think that I would read more papers instead of hiring multiple tutors.

Amanda

Don't worry G, your time isn't wasted, I find it hard to believe the collective body of reviewers will be more tolerant. And even if they were, better writing is always an advantage.

As for it being harder coming from the Japanese language - I'm sure it is. But here is the issue I have with that. Everyone's life circumstance are different. Growing up poor in the US, or with abusive parents, or having a natural reading disability - these can all make things equally hard. Likewise having an older sibling, helpful parents, living in a good school district - all of these can be huge advantages. Life circumstances come with all sorts of advantage and disadvantages, and we are fooling ourselves if we think there is some way to even all of this out. Fair in philosophy should mean publishing the best work. I don't see any plausible way around this. Prose are one factor that contribute to the quality of a paper, but there are others as well. So if one is not the best at prose, they can keep working on them but also try to make up for it in other ways.

Pendaran

"Pendaran if we shouldn't reject ideas just because they are poorly written, wouldn't that apply to all papers, not just non- native speakers? After all, some people are just not good writers, even if English is their first language. I can think of some very famous philosophers were this is almost certainly the case."

There are different ways one can be a bad writer. I know famous philosophers who are bad writers in that their sentences are long and cumbersome and so also their paragraphs. However, this is a different kind of bad writing than that which one might find with a non-native speaker. A non-native speaker can sound, falsely of course, as if they are unintelligent and illiterate. This kind of bad writing might seriously affect reviewers if they don't understand why the writing they are reading is making basic English mistakes over and over again. Non-native speakers are unlikely to make these mistakes as often, and if a native speaker is really struggling with basic English rules, then that might be more of a reason to worry about their content. Now, in the end, no one should be allowed to get away with particularly bad writing in our journals, because the journals are producing content for English readers. But referees can give R&R's where they recommend help with English writing, if they think the manuscript is worth this further attention.


F. Contesi

As far as I know, there are no immediate empirical data on acceptance rates concerning philosophy. There are however data on other disciplines that support the initial reader’s intuitive suspicion (some of these are briefly discussed in Vitaly Pronskikh’s “Linguistic Privilege and Justice”, in a volume I have recently co-edited on “Linguistic Justice and Analytic Philosophy”: https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rppa20/47/1?nav=tocList ; apologies for self-advertising!). In the Introduction to, and elsewhere in, our volume there are also data on non-native speakers among the most cited analytic philosophers etc., as well as data on philosophers affiliated to non-Anglophone institutions (see e.g. Eric Schwitzgebel’s piece). The latter kind of data is easier to collect and there are also data on acceptance rates concerning countries of affiliation. See e.g. https://cdn.ymaws.com/aesthetics-online.site-ym.com/resource/resmgr/files/jaac/JAAC_Editors_Report_2018.pdf . Partly to make data on non-native speakers easier to collect, self-certification of native-speaker status at the moment of submission would be a good idea. Many universities have for years been implementing similar policies for students with such conditions as dyslexia (while preserving anonymous marking).

Another Non-native speaker

In my experience, European journals tend to be more tolerant of linguistic errors since they are also not native speakers in English. Besides, if your papers are not desk rejected, you can be sure that your writing is good enough for being an academic philosopher, though I'm not sure whether the editors and reviewers would be implicitly biased against you.

Anonymous

I once paid a native speaker to proofread my article, and still one reviewer made comments about how bad my English was and suggested to check the article with a native speaker! And I am not the only one who had this kind of experience. I have the impression that reviewers and researchers who are not English natives speakers have no problems to understand my writing, because they have a first-hand experience of what it is like to learn and communicate in another language, and this effort that at the beginning is explicit and conscious becomes with time a part of the natural process of understanding what another person wants to communicate. I have only met a few English-native speakers who speak and write in another language, and I have the impression that they are less tolerant because they have never make an effort to communicate with someone else, so they judge what they read according to the only criterion they have: their standards of what a good piece of written work is.

I understand the suggestions made by non-native speaker, but not everybody can become extremely fluent in English,and even if they can, this takes time, and gives an advantage to natives. Furthermore, not everybody can paid a native speaker to proofread. In some countries, researchers do not have funding at all, or have a minimal amount of money. If a researcher earns 500 dollars per month, it is impossible to spend 100 dollars to make proofread an article by an English native speaker, especially if we consider that an article before publication must be in general reviewed a few times. I have the impression that people working in rich countries do not realize the conditions in which researchers work in other parts of the world.
On the other side, I found some comments made by G a little selfish: " If suddenly reviewers become more tolerant, I have to say that I would feel that I had wasted too much time and money working on my prose." It is not about what is most beneficial for me right now, but about the way in which we can improve current practices in the philosophical field at an international level to create a better environment for us and for the future generations.

I also have the impression native English researchers do not realize the privilege they have just for being born in an English speaking country. The fact that English became the principal language for scientific communication is not "natural", is not a "life circonstance" as Amanda said; it is a product of linguistic colonialism. It's striking to see that academic journals in English became predominantly the only journals that are "internationally" recognized, and that are even considered "international", when in many cases the editorial board is almost from US and UK (see for ex Noûs), and most of the publications are from researchers working in US and UK (see for example, this statement made by the editors of the European Journal of Philosophy, who explained that most of their authors come from UK and US: http://dailynous.com/2018/10/08/changes-european-journal-philosophy/). So nowadays, I have the impression that "international" implicitly means "English speaking countries". An international journal should have an international editorial board and should publish articles written by people coming from all five continents; if not they should not be considered "international".
If academic journals want to become more inclusive, they need to positively act to solve this structural injustice; if not, natives would always have privileges. I think the suggestion of checking a box at the time of submitting a paper is a good one: I do not think it will violate blind review. There are more people in the world who is not a native speaker than there are natives speakers, so I do not imagine how the fact of knowing that the author is not a native speaker could give an idea of who (s)he is. In fact, considering that most of the editorial boards, reviewers and authors are from UK and US (or at least it seems to be the case; more should be done to get data on these issues), I have the impression that the process of review is not so blind as it is presented: it is highly probable that an author from the UK or the US is actually recognized by their UK and US peers.
Furthermore, the suggestion 1 made by Conklin, Haussoun & Schwitzgebel, about diversifying representatives in journals, could be complementary with a practice in an opposite direction: to actively participate as an editor, reviewer, or even author in journals published in other parts of the world. I think this kind of practice is more common in Europe, but it would really help to develop internationally recognized journals in other parts of the world such as Asia, Africa and South America.

G

"On the other side, I found some comments made by G a little selfish: " If suddenly reviewers become more tolerant, I have to say that I would feel that I had wasted too much time and money working on my prose." It is not about what is most beneficial for me right now, but about the way in which we can improve current practices in the philosophical field at an international level to create a better environment for us and for the future generations."
------

Thank you for your thoughts, Anonymous. I just want to clarify that I was merely *describing" what I felt. I want my feeling to be heard and recognized. And I do *not* mean to make a normative claim that reviewers should not be more tolerant because of how I feel.

I totally agree that it is "about the way in which we can improve current practices in the philosophical field at an international level to create a better environment for us and for the future generations." But since I am one of "us", I do want my experience to be considered. What we go from here is a separate question, one that I do not have an answer to.

RJM

As someone who has done a fair bit of editing for people fortunate enough to be able to get a funding agency to pay for the service, I wanted to add my thoughts here, and raise a point from the editor's perspective.

One thing an editor has to do is correct simple grammatical mistakes: change singuler nouns to plurals, correct the tense of verbs, and so on. These things are easy to fix, and can be done without any thought. But you don't change a text into one that looks like it was written by a native speaker just by fixing these things.

A lot of the time, the (supposed) deficiencies that make a text "stand out" as not written by a native English speaker are not straightforward grammatical mistakes. They rather have to do with misuse of idioms, or with not using an idiomatic expression to convey something that is otherwise very difficult to convey, or with using a more convoluted phrase where something simpler is available, or with sentence constructions that aren't exactly wrong but just aren't the sort of thing a native English speaker would say. (Of course ,there's often no such thing as what *a* native-English-speaker would say: idioms, word-choice, preposition use, and so on, do vary a bit across dialectics of English, and I sometimes find things my American colleagues say hard to understand, or unfamiliar!).

As an editor, it is not a simple matter to decide what to do about these sorts of (supposed) mistake. You can of course go through the text and write it as you would, hiding the fact it was written by a non-native speaker, but then you run the risk of not doing justice to the writer's intentions, and--quite literally--eliminating their voice. More generally, it is also not clear what is gained by changing these sorts of things--beyond giving the writer an edited version of their text that might not trigger the unconscious prejudices of a future reviewer with a bee in their bonnet about "correct English". Philosophy is a global enterprise, and many involved in it don't speak English as a first language. I think we need to ask ourselves whether we shouldn't be more willing to question whether our instinctive reactions to papers are not driven more by the fact that some of the expressions and sentences read a little strangely to our ears than by the philosophical content of the paper itself. We should also embrace the opportunity for stylistic and linguistic innovation this gives us. After all, one of the markers of good prose is precisely a willingness to play with stylistic and linguistic conventions.

Amanda

"linguistic colonialism" *IS* a life circumstance. Plenty of life circumstances are unjust, or evil, or irrational. That is my point. That we cannot account for all the historical forms of injustice. Being poor, being a woman, going to a crappy school system - all of these come with structural injustices. Being a non-native speaker is just one of many structural injustices in the world. And yes, I find it likely non-native speakers will always be at a disadvantage. How could they not be? Learning a language is hard. At the same time - there are a lot of other disadvantages out there.

Pendaran

There are practical reasons for publishing mainly in one language. The historic reasons that that language happens to be English include many malicious deeds. But that doesn’t mean it’s not today a net positive for philosophy that it’s mainly done in a single language. To say otherwise is some kind of genetic fallacy.

F. Contesi

It seems to me that we should try to ameliorate as many structural injustices as we can, rather than get overwhelmed by their being many in number. I also believe that serious argumentative work should go into establishing the claim that the existence of a lingua franca (such as English) for (analytic) philosophy is a net positive. Once such a claim was established, the claim would still be perfectly compatible with making efforts to avoid and combat the negative effects—be they due to injustices or simply undesirable—that the existence of a philosophical lingua franca such as English brings with it.

Amanda

I think it is unfair if someone gets some type of advantage for being a non-native speaker, but someone who has a learning disability that influences writing does not get that advantage. (and this is just one example) At that point we are being pretty arbitrary in which disadvantages we give some type of "extra points" to. This is why I think philosophy papers should be judged on their merit, nothing more, nothing less. (And yes, of course, there is great disagreement over merit - but who wrote the paper, and facts about that person, are not something that I would want taken into consideration.)

In small fields - which are a lot of fields these days, knowing someone is a non-native speaker absolutely would narrow the pool down on who might have written it. I often get a paper where I have strong reason to believe it must have been written by maybe 5-6 people. If I knew it was also a non-native speaker, that might narrow it down to 1 or 2.

Anonymous

I agree with F. Contesi and disagree with Amanda: the question is not about "giving an advantage" to non-native English speakers, but about giving them the same conditions of possibility that are currently very unequal.
On the other hand, I still do not understand how a checkbox will make easier to discover the author. First, there may be more people in the world working on that topic whom you do not know, and second, in small fields, you can probably recognize the author anyway, according to his writing style, his interests, the topic of the article, especially if both, the author and the reviewer belong to a UK or US institution (the reviewer probably interacts with these people very often, edits with them handbooks, goes to the same conferences, organizes conferences with them, etc).

anativespeakerabroad

I think a lot of the problem is due to a lack of awareness. Only when I began working at a non-Anglophone European institution did I begin to realize how difficult it can be to write philosophy texts in another language (even if the large majority of what you read is in that language). I now am more charitable when I review papers, as far as the English is concerned. So long as it's not unreadable or dramatically obscuring the point of the paper, I try to focus on content rather than grammar and style. If the author makes certain mistakes consistently, or there are some mistakes that obscure the meaning of the claim, I usually note this in my review but try to phrase it as a helpful comment, not as a reason for rejection.

I wonder if, instead of making authors check a 'non-native speaker' box (which also doesn't seem like a horrible idea to me), it might just be worth inserting a paragraph into reviewer instructions *for all papers* concerning linguistic charity (and reminding reviewers that linguistic/stylistic issues can be corrected at a later phase)??

Also, I'd like to note here that - although I'm generally OK with the idea of there being a common language for philosophical communication - the pressure to publish in English has ripple effects all over the university to the detriment of younger scholars. First, it takes *a lot* longer to get to the point where a paper is ready for submission. Second, pre-/post-docs and junior scholars have less money to hire proofreaders. Third, native-speaking junior scholars working abroad are often tasked with proofreading/copy-editing/translating the texts of senior scholars for journals and conferences, taking away from their own research time. [Personally, I had to start telling professors that I would no longer correct things for them without remuneration, but I am still concerned that this was taken as me being "uncollegial". Further, they were shocked when I demanded the price a professional proofreader would charge.] Finally, although some universities will cover the cost of translation/proofreading (as they do with open-access fees), this is less common at smaller universities or universities in economically disadvantaged regions. Sometimes it means the individual must write a separate *grant* proposal to get funding for these services, which again takes time.

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