Thread: Promising Practices

‘Native Here and to the Manner Born’?

David Owen – Barcelona, Spain

In the context of English as a world language, there is a need to recognise the validity and acceptability of texts that, whilst eschewing formal error, may nevertheless still fail to correspond to the rhetorical, pragmatic expectations imposed by criteria of nativeness. With what right can editors continue to insist on full linguistic compliance with standard English (UK/US) when such models are now minority and when millions of non-native users communicate effectively both with readers whose first language is English and (in most cases) with others whose first language is not?

I am often forwarded negative feedback from editors on the language of our researchers’ academic texts (mainly psychology, sociology, political sciences, environmental sciences, the pure sciences). Frequently, these texts are formally impeccable. But they rarely show the complex linguistic control characterising native users of a similar professional standing. Publication, and not only in high-impact, highly cited journals, therefore often requires our researchers to modify their text to native standard, a task beyond almost any non-native user, and which obliges writers of an already extraordinarily competent level of English to submit their texts for translation or for ab initio correction.

The purpose of my presentation is to suggest that, since a fundamental aim of academic publication is effective diffusion of content, editors and reviewers should accept that non-native submissions be judged by more comprehensive linguistic criteria. It is not a question of mere simplification, but rather a common-sense acceptance of a linguistic reality, one that would foster a greater feeling of confidence amongst non-native contributors, would ensure a broader readership and would mark the journal in question as linguistically sensitive and informed. The presentation will cover the following:

  • examples of formally correct NNSE academic text and how this was revised to meet NSE requirements;
  • examples of editor/reviewer comment on NNSE language;
  • suggested pragmatic models for NNSE authors and correction criteria for editors;
  • examples of correction certification and ‘linguistic arbitration’.

Dr David Owen is Coordinator of Academic Translation with the Language Advisory and Translation Unit at the Language Service of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, where he is also lecturer in English Literature in the Department of Anglo-Germanic Philology, Faculty of Philosophy and Arts.