Panel discussion

Academic English vs. plain prose—the debate

METM 06, Barcelona
27-28 October 2006

Panel: Anthony Pym, John Bates, Kevin Costello
Saturday 28, 10:20-11:30, Room 1

The virtues of Plain Prose are beyond doubt. However, given that many academic writers, in all disciplines and sciences, know little about those virtues, translators and editors may see part of their work as being to make florid prose plain. Clefts are unclefted, passives are made active, and python-like sentences are chopped into digestible pieces. The role of a university language service may thus be seen as to make the languages of science accessible and understandable, in a sense that goes well beyond sentence-for-sentence translation. Translators consequently take on a series of tasks for which they are mostly unpaid. Academics, on the other hand, may feel unhappy about the dumbing-down of their language. They tend to see aesthetic and social virtues in complex prose, which is why they produce it. These issues will be taken up by the head of a university language service (John Bates), a translator and editor addicted to Plain Prose (Kevin Costello), and an academic prepared to explain and defend complexity (Anthony Pym).

Anthony Pym, Universitat Rovira i Virgili and John Bates, Servei Lingüístic, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain; Kevin Costello, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Viriginia, USA