In the Digital Publishing class I’m teaching this semester, the major project (which I’ll write about later) that students are working on is to mine metadata from Kairos. All 15 years of back issues. It’s quite the project, and (thankfully, she says with much relief) they seem to be totally digging it.
A few weeks ago, we were talking about why one of the fields of metadata — Language — is always listed as “EN” (for English) for all the webtexts Kairos has published. I wanted them to consider what issues only publishing in one language presents for the journal (and the field of digital writing studies) in relation to the journal’s international readership. We have readers from 180 counties, “Ascension Island to Zimbabwe (and from every top-level domain country code in between)” Doug wrote in the journal’s About section. It has always struck me as cool that the journal has so many international readers, but until I went to Norway 18 months ago, it didn’t hit home that that readership is a one-way street. The journal provides scholarship for international readers, but in only a handful of cases (if even that) do international readers submit scholarship to Kairos. [Here, I am primarily referring to non-native speakers of English, perhaps an incorrect conflation with international scholars.]
My experience in Norway opened my eyes to the possibilities of expanding Kairos‘s international submissions. At the seminar in Oslo, I met 30 or so scholars and artists working across the blurring boundaries of research and creativity in digital media, and there is some realllly cool work in digital media and rhetoric happening all across the globe. But most of that work is happening — for all the traditional academic reasons — in print. Or in print-like digital venues (note, I’ve linked you to the English version of the site, but it is a Norwegian journal). And the lingua franca for academic scholarship is English, which means that U.S. scholars (and, more broadly, native-English-speaking scholars) are missing out on the ripe bit of scholarship that’s happening in digital media in other parts and other languages of the world. This point (and my vantage point) was driven home in two succeeding experiences:
- In Lille, France last September, during the Academic Literacies conference, I heard tell of a panel that Bruce Horner, Tiane Donohue, and another(?) presented in which they counted the number of non-English-speaking scholars whose work had been cited in the major rhetoric journals that come out of the U.S., including CCC, C&C, Rhetoric Review, Kairos, and others. (Keep in mind that I wasn’t at the panel, so this info may not be totally accurate.) Kairos, it was said, had zero — ZERO — citations of work by non-Western/NNS of English. I don’t think that’s true, but then I’m a little busy these days working on the metadata project to try to research our citation patterns. (Doug’s working on that 😉 But the point is still well-taken. (None of the journals, from my understanding, fared exceedingly well in the study…).
- I was invited back to Norway this past December to serve as an opponent on a PhD student’s dissertation at AHO (Oslo School of Architecture and Design), and afterwards, the student’s advisor — the wonderful Andrew Morrison — noted that this was (one of?) the first Norwegian PhD students he’d worked with who had chosen to write his dissertation entirely in English, instead of writing it in Norwegian and then translating it. I was both completely impressed (at Jon Olav Eikenes‘ ability to write so fluently about social semiotics, multimodality, and kinetic interface design — all in English) AND completely appalled at my inability to fluently interact in any language other than English. I speak a decent tourist amount of French, but still had a ridiculous helluva time trying to navigate around that country. Unlike France, every sign/menu/etc and nearly every Norwegian speaks impeccable English. As do the Dutch, Swedes, and other international folks living and working in Oslo. But even though Eikenes has published numerous research articles on his concept of navimation, which is based in his lifework on designing kinetic interfaces that are beautiful and fun and smart, when I asked him at his disputation how he would turn some of his print-scholarly work into digital media scholarship, he was a bit stumped. Not because he couldn’t easily do such a thing, but because (I think) it had never occurred to him that that was an acceptable possibility given the strictures of academe. Same story in Norway as in the U.S. (And ripe material for another, later post.) More over, it reminded me that there are so FEW venues for this kind of work, and I don’t even know if there are non-English-based venues that primarily publish digital media scholarship. If I don’t know, why should Jon Olav?
All of which led me to wonder what Kairos could do to encourage more international scholars (whether they were writing in English or not — after all, for Kairos, a good part of the webtext is the design, and code is code. I’m obviously missing some crucial point here about the translation of digital media scholarly work from English-speaking people to NNS of English, but it’s on my study list.) So in class a few weeks ago, I asked the undergraduates to read the “Development” chapter from John Willinsky’s The Access Principle. This chapter is about opening up scholarly consumption and production, via open-access journals (that could use Willinsky’s Open Journal Systems as a back-end), to developing nations. Willinsky makes a beautiful argument about the benefits of cross-pollination of scholarly discourse, so I encourage you to read it. For the students in class, however, I posed the question: Given that all the Language metadata you’re gathering for Kairos points to “EN” and given Willinsky’s argument that we need to open up those barriers to scholarly discourse, how would I, as editor of Kairos, begin to encourage more international scholars to publish in the journal? They had a fantastic list that included very simple ideas:
- do more outreach by making contacts with international universities and asking them to submit personally, or sending the invitation on to their students (this might also provide additional peer-reviewers who know other languages)
- decide to publish one webtext a year from an international scholar (preferably in their native language) and gauge the reading stats of that webtext
- ask scholars to translate the above work for tenure credit (as those in literary/creative studies do)
- ask grad students to translate the work as part of their journal internships and/or to fulfill course requirements?
- create an avenue of exchange by setting up international versions of Kairos (like different versions of Vogue, Esquire, MTV, etc. Love this.)
- put a call out in the Logging On column for international scholars to submit and publish translated versions of that call in several languages (and encourage more translations of the call if redistributed)
For the most part, these are pretty simple ideas, and some students in class offered to intern to work on these projects. The journal just has to be willing to initiate the interns and the projects, and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with the metadata and back-end projects right now. But, still, these are really easy to do. At the WRAB conference last weekend, which is filled with super-smart international scholars studying writing (although not a whole lot of digital media), I ran into Karen Lunsford, my go-to gal on how to recruit and work with international scholars and asked if she’d be interested in helping me set up a special issue on this. I am not committing her publicly here, but she did say she was interested, and now I need to get on that. 😉 The ball is rolling. This isn’t to say (yet) that Kairos is ready to start accepted non-English webtexts. It is only to say that the journal is interested in the possibility and for what that might mean for the field’s (and journal’s) scholarly future.
I’ll conclude this post by doing another CELJ-cross-over. I didn’t realize I needed to write this thought up until I got an email on the CELJ list this week from an editor in Germany asking editors what their opinions and workflows were for working with authors who are NNS of English. Here are my responses, which include the surrounding email from the German-based editor:
I am a US American sociolinguist in the English Department at the University of Cologne in Germany. I am also the second Vice President of the American Name Society which publishes the onomastic journal, NAMES. For our last journal number, I served as the guest editor for a special issue on Naming and War. To make sure that this issue represented the perspectives and interests of our international audience, I took great pains to invite authors from around the world to submit papers. In the end, however, I found that it was exceedingly difficult to find authors outside of the English-speaking world who had sufficient skills in academic English to produce texts satisfactory enough for publication. As a direct result of this experience, I became extremely interested to know what the experience and opinions of other professional editors have been. I would greatly appreciate having your response to the questions listed below. Please feel free to answer anonymously if you prefer.
What experiences (positive and/or negative) have you personally had with publishing papers by researchers who do not have English as their first/native language?
We’ve only had a few publishes pieces by scholars whose primary language was not English. In most cases, however, the scholars are also fluent in English. I hope to encourage a broader population of international authors in the future, however.
Has your journal established a special set of procedures for dealing with submissions which are rich in content but nevertheless sub-standard with regard to the academic style customarily expected of English scientific prose? I stress here, academic style, as it is clear that papers with poor grammar can not be accepted without having been professionally proof-read. Questions of style are, however, often much harder to handle.
No, we have no procedure. What we do have is a willingness to consider stylistic variations as equally appropriate as the design variations our authors use. (“Articles” published in my journal are individually designed in digital media by each author, so the variance among design is great.)
Do you think that editors should consider changing their publication requirements such that the grammatical and stylistic norms of other world Englishes used outside of Great Britain and North America are more accepted and therefore represented in academic print? Why or why not?
Yes, absolutely. Because there is a lot of scholarly work happening in my journal’s subdiscipline by authors who may not be fluent in academic English. Also because our readership indicates a huge international, nonWestern following, but we see no submissions from these potential authors. (But, we are not a print journal.) We are also considering how we might publish scholarship NOT in English; that is, we are considering how we can provide a space for authors to publish digital media scholarship in their first languages, and then provide an opportunity for translation by other scholars. I’m not totally sure how this would work, but I am eager to figure out a way to (1) expand the rights to scholarship to non-English, non-Western scholars of digital media, and (2) provide more opportunities for English-speaking scholars to learn from international scholars.
If you were to make a guess, what percentage of the articles in your journal are submitted by non-native speakers of English? What percentage of the articles actually published in your journal have been written by non-native speakers of English?
In my 10 years at the journal, I know of about five webtexts that have been submitted (or co-authored) by NNS of English. Of those five or so, at least two were not legitimate submissions (e.g., scholars submitting Word documents to us — we don’t publish linear scholarship). Of the remaining submissions, at least one, and possibly two (one before my time as editor), have made it to publication. So, of legitimate submissions, the ratio to getting published by NNS is pretty high. (Also, there may be scholars in my field whose native language is NOT English, and I just don’t know that because they’ve been living/working in the US for a long long time.)
If you yourself are either a non-native speaker of English or a native speaker of a national variety of English which is neither British nor North American, what is your personal opinion on this issue?
We need more scholarship published in English-speaking journals by NSS of English. I personally like the style variations by NNS of English in academic scholarship because it reminds me that the world isn’t just my tiny corner of it. If we see more international scholarship published in our more “traditional” Western journals, then readers of those journals would, perhaps, be more likely to venture out and find new journals borne in other countries, and find new, rich scholarship and potential international interests and collaborations. I think that this is all possible with digital, online journals much more than it is with print journals. Open-access allows for easier cross-over into non-standard academic worlds than closed-access journals do.
Thank you ever so much for your time in answering my questions!
Dr. I. M. Laversuch
English Department of the University of Cologne, Germany
Second Vice President of the American Name Society.